17 One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.* 18Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus;* 19but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd* in front of Jesus. 20When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend,* your sins are forgiven you.’
21Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ 22When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 23Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? 24But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the one who was paralysed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ 25Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. 26Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’
Strange things will be seen
How many of you have ever been a patient? At some point or another, we all find ourselves in the familiar position of having to depend on the health care system. It isn’t always pleasant, it’s never cheap, but it does give us a brief window into the experience this man has while his friends are lowering him through the roof—let’s face it, sometimes the healthcare tapdance is just as confusing as though you were on a litter being dropped through the ceiling.
During my last knee surgery I had the great pleasure of being on a gurney that was wheeled around the hospital at great speeds to places unknown. I would end up in some mysterious holding room, with needles jabbed into my arm and numbers unknown were checked. Eventually, half awake and less alert, I was in the operating room, when something rather disconcerting happened. I was handed a sharpie and told to put a big ‘X’ on the knee that wasn’t being operated on. While I understand the simplicity of this action, it made me shudder to think that there were, in fact, doctors who had no idea what they were doing on that particular day. I made this big, giant black ‘X’, ensuring that for the next two months all who saw my left knee would know it was not meant to be operated upon. It’s scary to be the patient sometimes—we have no control, let people we don’t know make us unconscious and put holes in our body, and even when we are awake and alert we aren’t always sure what’s going on. We give up a lot of control when we lay upon those hospital beds.
Any experience like this gives us some common ground with our patient today. A paralytic, he didn’t have the option of wandering off if he didn’t understand the commotion—he was completely dependent on those around him to carry him to where he needed to be. Thankfully he had some devoted friends, for they had decided that they were going to get their friend healed, and would stop at nothing.
We’ve all seen large crowds. We’ve seen people gathered around buildings, but I’m trying to understand the crowd that was gathered around this particular house. It was obviously massive, but it’s hard to understand a crowd so large that, rather than try and push through, these guys decide their best possible option is to go up onto the roof and drop him down that way. Obviously they were a creative bunch, because that’s exactly what they do, but it puts into perspective how in demand Jesus was. Word kept spreading around the entire countryside, and people were responding to this word, some to come and be healed, others to come and listen to what this wise man had to say. So many had gathered around the house that access to Jesus with a litter was entirely impossible. But these were not the type to be put off by such a simple problem like that—so they found the stairs that were evidently there, and carried this man up, peeled back the roof tiles, and lowered him down.
Imagine the bewilderment of this man on the litter. You can’t walk, so there’s no option of bailing out of this wild ride, but these friends are carrying you toward Jesus, only to discover that the door is not an option. The next thing you know, you’re being jostled up a set of stairs, or maybe pitched over the top, onto the roof, wondering the whole time what in the world is going on, then suddenly you see roof tiles discarded and you’re being lowered—perhaps dropped—down onto the floor before Jesus. What kind of look do you give the man who’s supposed to heal you then? The entire crowd is gasping at this remarkable entrance, and you’re laying there waiting on Jesus, saying nothing.
Jesus must have looked down, looked skyward, saw these faithful faces peering down, waiting for him to work a miracle, partly simply so they wouldn’t have to hoist this guy back up through the ceiling, and smiled. What faith they had in Jesus! Such was their faith that they would do anything to get their friend before Jesus. Love is dropping your paralyzed friend through a roof so that he might be healed!
“Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
This is the point where he needs his Sharpie.
“No, you see, Jesus, the thing is, I can’t walk. My legs need healing, not my sins. Right here, just above the knee. That’s what you need to work on.”
“Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
“That’s all well and good, but what about my legs?”
“Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
We don’t have the reaction of the paralyzed man. We don’t have the reaction of the friends, seeing their act of dropping a paralyzed man down through the roof turn into a forgiveness show, not a healing. Didn’t Jesus understand the need?
The only reaction we get is that of the Pharisees, those who are gathered to hear him teach. Their reaction is one of confusion—they’re appalled. Who does this guy think he is? Healing people is one thing, but forgiving the sins of others? Doesn’t he know that only God can do that? And doesn’t he know what it takes—the offerings and the complicated maneuverings? Doesn’t he realize how complicated forgiveness is?
Jesus perceives their thoughts, and must have gathered everyone else’s as well. I think it’s safe to say that every single person in the room was mighty confused at what was going on—Jesus was forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man when everyone could tell he needed healing. Just who was this guy? And why didn’t he get it?
Meanwhile, Jesus is looking at everyone around and saying, “Which is easier—to forgive sins or to heal?” In other words, “Why don’t you get it?”
Jesus does heal the paralyzed man, to demonstrate his power and authority. The man goes off glorifying God—indeed, everyone who saw this glorified God. We can’t be sure they truly got the message, but they understand the dramatic, the physical healing that took place, and for that reason they gave glory to God.
But maybe, just maybe, they saw what else had just happened. Maybe they recognized the priority that Jesus set here—that the spiritual healing, the process of being reconciled with God, is far more important than the dramatic physical healings that had drawn so many to Jesus. Maybe they began to see that all of these healings were a sign of his power, but his true power, his true reason for coming to earth, was far bigger than simply to heal. He was drawing people to himself, to God, through the power of forgiveness.
Sin is separation from God. So basically, what we do with every sin is add another block to the wall we are building between ourselves and God. We are determined to do everything we can to build this wall, to reinforce it, to isolate ourselves so we can buy into the lie of self-sufficiency.
But Jesus has come to tear down that wall. Jesus comes crashing through it, caring not about the stones or our method of construction but about the person on the other side of the wall. Jesus comes to tear down the wall so that, once more, we might have access to God. Jesus has come to reunite us with the Father, and that mission is far more important than any other thing. It may not have been as dramatic as these incredible physical healings, but it has lasting, eternal impact.
That’s what Christ does—he changes our eternity. Because of Christ we have eternal life, eternal hope. Because of Christ, we have life.
Here in this story, Christ is teaching us something. He uses this man, dropped through the roof, as his example. This paralyzed man, a man so obviously in need of healing, is forgiven his sins first. Jesus thinks the single most important thing in this man’s life is his relationship with God.
I hope we do, too. I hope we recognize the importance of placing God first in our every moment. I hope that we see Jesus Christ as the man who came to tear down the wall we are still trying to build between ourselves and God. I hope we pour ourselves out before Christ, asking for forgiveness for the things we have done and for strength to live as the children he wants us to be. I hope that we rely on the church to bring us before Christ, to drop us down from the ceiling sometimes, that we might experience the grace of God once more. I hope that we live each moment, always ready to glorify God for the miraculous forgiveness and grace we have experienced. God cares about our souls, about his children, first and foremost. He cares most about how we are living as Christians, how we are being built up as the body of Christ, how we are growing towards God—may we have the wisdom to care first about the things God cares most about, rather than getting so caught up in everything else that we forget about the radical and transformative grace of God.
Let us pray