When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
So, two questions: 1) what in the world does forgiveness have to do with healing and 2) why are some people so offended by Jesus offering this guy forgiveness? We’ll take one today and the second tomorrow.
In our world, we tend to divorce the physical and the spiritual. Not so in the first century. Sin, in the ancient world, described exactly what it meant – “missing the mark.” It was not living up to the potential God created for you, falling short of God’s desires and purposes, and causing harm to yourself and those around you as a result. Sin, therefore, caused a breach in relationship between you and God, others, and the world around you.
Illness, to a certain degree, was a concrete manifestation of this larger condition. While we can certainly write this off by saying that it was pre-Enlightenment superstition, we might also look at it as a far more holistic approach to health than we sometimes envision. Can we really describe ourselves as healthy, we might ask, if we are not in right relationship with those around us?
This is not to make a one-to-one correlation between sin and physical ailment, but to note that we are whole beings: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. And so when Jesus connects healing and forgiveness he tends the whole person in front of him.
But take note, for this more holistic view of humanity to make sense, even to work, we need to distinguish between guilt caused by sin and shame. Guilt is recognition that we’ve done something wrong and therefore need forgiveness; shame is the belief that we ourselves are wrong, unfit to be loved or respected. I think we’ve tended to use the word “sin” in a way that conveys there is something deficient, unlovable, shameful about the person who has sinned. But, again, sin means what it says, “missing the mark” – it does not remove us from the pale of God’s consideration and love. Forgiveness is about restoration, conveying the assurance that whatever has happened, whatever has gone wrong, God is still there, loving, redeeming, restoring.
So, we might ask, “which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’”? In this case, perhaps, they’re not quite as different as we thought.
Prayer: Dear God, open us up to healing mind, body, and spirit that you offer in and through your Son, Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.