Bible text: Luke 5:17-28
In chapters 4 & 5 we begin to see Jesus in action—his ministry is taking off. He is tempted in the wilderness by the devil, and we learn about Jesus’ commitment to God’s plan of salvation, which does not include breaking God’s commandments but keeping God’s word. Once that ordeal is over, Jesus begins traveling through many towns in the region, teaching and healing. He calls some disciples to journey with him in this ministry, and off they go.
There are 2 things going on in this story: someone comes to Jesus for healing; and Jesus’ authority is challenged; these two are tangled up together in this tense story. We can anticipate the conflict in the opening sentence, when we see that Jesus is teaching and scribes and Pharisees are nearby. The next characters on the scene are some people carrying a paralyzed man on a bed, coming to Jesus for healing. Now, these are the kinds of friends you want to have—they are so sure that Jesus can heal this guy that they go to extremes to make sure it happens. When they can’t nudge their way through the crowd to the front of the room, they go at it from another angle, literally. They climb the roof, with the man on the bed (are you imagining the difficulty of this task?), peel away some of the tiles, and lower him into the room, right in the middle of the crowd, who now apparently parts to make room for the bed, and he ends up right where they wanted him—in front of Jesus.
Jesus sees—what? Their desperation, their foolhardiness, their bad manners, their vandalism? No, Jesus sees their faith, and responds. But he doesn’t give them what they came for, not yet—he doesn’t heal the man’s paralysis. He forgives his sin. Now, we know, theologically speaking, that everyone needs some sin forgiven, even if we can’t think of what it might be at any given moment. So, good--Jesus forgives his sin. But remember in ancient cultures God or the gods were in charge of absolutely everything that happened, good and bad. Illness or affliction of any kind were attributed to God, as punishment for some sin. So it isn’t entirely unreasonable that the first step to healing this guy is to forgive his sin.
“Which is easier,” he asks, “to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Stand up and walk’?” Forgiveness of sins is a faith thing, after all; we have no way to prove that it has happened, so if Jesus is a phony he could easily state that and be done. If he says, “Stand up and walk”, the guy better be able to stand up and walk, or Jesus will be run out of town as a fraud. But, if those sins ARE forgiven, then this Jesus is someone entirely unexpected, for only God can forgive sins. So the “proof” that Jesus can and does forgive sins is the healing, which Jesus first announces and then does. The man stands up, picks up his bed, and goes home—glorifying God who has forgiven his sins. Jesus’ authority and identity as the Son of Man is established; the man is healed, thanks to his faith and the faith of his friends; and the entire room is filled with awe and everyone glorifies God, presumably including the skeptical scribes and Pharisees.
As we read through Luke, our picture of who God is gets bigger, bit by bit. Remember that in Luke we see how salvation happens through the life of Jesus, and that everything Jesus does is salvation—liberation from anything that is binding you today, anything that is keeping you from being the real youGod created you to be, here and now. In this story we see how Jesus not only heals the paralyzed man; he also forgives his sin, and in both of these the man is freed from obstacles that kept him from this full relationship with God. His sin is removed, and whatever he did to “make God mad so God paralyzed him” (although we wouldn’t think of it that way) is also removed. He is free to be fully connected with God again.