Gospel 16th January 2009
After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren't able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, "Son, I forgive your sins."
Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, "He can't talk that way! That's blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins."
Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, "Why are you so sceptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, 'I forgive your sins,' or say, 'Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking'? Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorised to do either, or both . . ." (he looked now at the paraplegic), "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home." And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, "We've never seen anything like this!"
Don't ever think that Jesus was that unique in his time. There were prophets; there were magicians; there were healers. And, because the world was looking for all of these, the people flocked to the latest, the greatest; the most outrageous as people today flock around a football player or musician.
And then, in a way yes, Jesus was unique, because he played to the wrong crowd. He played not simply to the ordinary man, who was happy to listen to the Temple folk being brought down a peg or two, but to the extraordinary man - the outcast, unclean, unwanted faces of the community.
Believe it, that when the paraplegic man was lowered into the house, the people present would have flung themselves out of the way; not wishing to be 'infected' by his uncleanliness before God. Because, if you were in such a state, it was a physical statement that God had passed judgement on you or your kin for some misdemeanour in your or your ancestors' past.
But Jesus doesn't even see the exterior disability at first, he looks into the man's heart and forgives the sins that are within. Perhaps sins of envy, despair, resentment -understandable but nevertheless- sins that are part of suffering, of being set apart, of being the unclean and the outcast. And they are forgiven.
Maybe, if this was as far as it went, the man will have returned to his home with a still-fractured body but a healed soul. Perhaps, in this healing, his new found peace would have been an example to others, a sign that whatever happens to the body does not have to be mirrored in the soul. Maybe this would have been the greater miracle?
But this was not enough for the critics. 'Only God can forgive sins'. Anyone can say it, anyone can believe it. But where is the evidence? Except perhaps the the forgiven feels the weight lifted , no-one can prove it. That's not really the point. The point is that Jesus is claiming God's power in a hidden and unprovable way. Blasphemy may be the claim but really they are disappointed - where's the big show; the grand gesture; Jesus is the toast of the town but he's not acting like it.
Realising that he needs to fulfill their expectations he submits - you don't know how to recognise a healing of spirit so I will give you a physical healing to rave over and be astounded at - and he does and they are.
Because we do, we like to be impressed; we want the grand gesture; the 'magic'. When we pray we want to be answered, when we meditate we want to feel that burning light of God, when we ask for God's blessing we want to feel it change our lives - we want proof. Yet we just have to look around us. There is the proof - in the minutae of nature; the tiny gestures of love; the invisible acts of healing; the moments of connection and reconciliation that are taking place all the time around us. And, whatever may be wrong on the outside, it is in noticing this that we know we are loved and forgiven.
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know