Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.
This is known as “Jesus and the Paralyzed Man” and is the first of 4 installments on the words that Jesus uses in this incident.
Some people bring a paralyzed man to Jesus and he is moved their faith. Instead of telling the man that he is healed, Jesus tells the man that his sins have been forgiven.
Why does Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven?” Isn’t that a little non sequitur? Didn’t the friends bring the man to be healed? Why doesn’t Jesus just heal him?
Ah, but there is a method to his madness. From the very beginning people have believed in the relationship between sin and infirmity. The ancient pagan view is that if you are sick it’s always because you did something wrong. This is the subject of the book of Job, supposedly one of the oldest books in the Bible. Job experiences sickness and hardship through no fault of his own. His friends all accuse him of sinning, but God ultimately rebukes the friends, exonerates Job, and restores all that had been lost. God makes it very clear that the friends were wrong for making judgments about Job and his situation.
Despite the story of Job, the Jews continued to believe that every illness or infirmity was the result of a person’s sin. It was viewed as God’s punishment, so atonement –and therefore the possibility for healing – was available only through the sacrificial offerings that were performed by priests. That was the whole point of performing animal sacrifice – to keep God happy so he would bless the community with prosperity and health. Over and over again very specific instructions for sin offerings are described in the Book of Leviticus. Here just a couple of the many examples in Chapter 5:
When you are guilty, you must confess the sin, and as the penalty for your sin you must bring to the Lord a female sheep or goat as an offering. The priest shall offer the sacrifice for your sin. If you cannot afford a sheep or a goat, you shall bring to the Lord as the payment for your sin two doves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. You shall bring them to the priest, who will first offer the bird for the sin offering. He will break its neck without pulling off its head and sprinkle some of its blood against the side of the altar. The rest of the blood will be drained out at the base of the altar. This is an offering to take away sin. Then he shall offer the second bird as a burnt offering, according to the regulations. In this way the priest shall offer the sacrifice for your sin, and you will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:5-10).
If any of you sin unintentionally by breaking any of the Lord’s commands, you are guilty and must pay the penalty. You must bring to the priest as a repayment offering a male sheep or goat without any defects. Its value is to be determined according to the official standard. The priest shall offer the sacrifice for the sin which you committed unintentionally, and you will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:17-18).
When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven” he is bypassing the whole temple system. He wants to put the priests with their fancy outfits out of business because they are a legacy of pagan practices that preceded Judaism. This is both heresy and blasphemy according to the letter of the Law of Moses. The interpretation of the Law was that forgiveness of sin could be accomplished only through the priestly sacrifices, and that the unforgiven sin of any individual endangered the entire Jewish community. They believed that their salvation, prosperity, health, and future as a God’s chosen people depended on strict adherence to the Law of Moses – especially all of those sacrifices. (For more on animal sacrifice see Day 18).
So “your sins are forgiven” is a highly inflammatory statement, kind of like impersonating a priest. Or worse yet, playing God. Jesus, what have you done! How will the Jewish authorities respond? What will happen to the man? Are his sins really forgiven? Stay tuned, same time, same place, tomorrow…..
I end this with Thomas Blackshear’s beautiful painting entitled Forgiven. One of my favorites. I never really noticed that the guy could indeed be paralyzed. Probably has something to do with this scripture.
What does this scripture say to you?