Daily Office

“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.”– Matthew 9:1-8

Let me ask you a question: Do you think this man’s paralysis had something to do with the sin that Jesus forgave?

Whatever else we might say about this passage of Scripture, this much is true: the man who was brought to Jesus on a stretcher got more that day than he bargained for. I don’t think Jesus forgave this man’s sins simply to irritate the scribes who happened to be hanging around that day. Nevertheless, they accuse him of blasphemy and Jesus rejects that charge out of hand: No! This is not blasphemy at all and I will prove it so.

And he does. Then he sends the man home, and there, in that simple phrase is what blows my mind about this story. It’s good that Jesus healed the man. It’s good that Jesus forgave his sins. It’s good that Jesus disproved the charge of blasphemy. The whole story is good, but that part where Jesus sends him ‘home’ is great. It is fantastic.

I am aware there is a lot going on in this ‘panel’ of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is healing. He is demonstrating his power. He is demonstrating his divinity (whatever that might entail). All of this, coming after the Sermon on the Mount—actions empowering his words—is a mighty testimony to the faithfulness of Jesus to his calling as the Son of God. As you may have guessed, however, something troubles me about the way preachers typically (and, not incidentally, traditionally) have preached this passage—as if it were disconnected from the Sermon on the Mount (5-7) and the great teaching that follows (10-13).

Typically this is a passage preached simply to demonstrate that Jesus was divine, God, that he was able and empowered and authorized to forgive sins. Yes. Yes. Yes. All of this is true, but that’s not the complete picture. Let’s not forget that something else happened that day too: “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” “Go home!” he says. “Go home.” It could be that he was like that fellow who laid by the pool all day (John 5) or that lame fellow in Acts 3 whom Peter healed and hardly ever went home or perhaps he had been rejected by his family. My point is: maybe he hadn’t been home for a while. As a paralyzed man, a sinner obviously cursed because of his sin, maybe he was unwelcome at home. I cannot think of a more liberating thing to happen to that man than for Jesus to look at him and say, “Go home!”

Thus the crowds respond the way they did, in a way, I might add, quite unlike the response of those who lived near the tombs in the region of the Gadarenes. It’s one thing to command the demon-possessed and quite another to heal a man from paralysis, right? But put yourself in the man’s place and hear Jesus say: “Your sins are forgiven; rise up; go home!” I suppose he could have said a lot of things; he chose to tell him to go home. Maybe that was Jesus’ way of saying that he was completely healed: he gave him back his home, his family, his dignity. Carried in on a mat, by ‘men’; carried out by the grace of God, on his own two feet.

In the April 2000 issue of Interpretation, L Gregory Jones, then dean of Duke University Divinity School (he may still be, I have no idea), captures well what I am getting at in his essay Crafting Communities of Forgiveness:

“At heart, Christian forgiveness is the means by which God’s love moves toward reconciliation in the wake of the sin and evil that mar God’s creation. Forgiveness aims to restore us to communion with God, with one another, and with the whole creation. We are not created to be isolated or self-enclosed individuals, and God’s forgiveness aims at reshaping us for faithful fellowship” (123).

So Jesus sends him home. He reconciles him to God (“Your sins are forgiven”) and he reconciles him to humanity (“Take your bed, go home”) and to the whole creation since the man is now whole, he can take his rightful place among the living and contribute to the everyday comings and goings of humanity. Jesus is about making us whole, perfect, complete and we are not entirely complete until we are reconciled to God and man. His forgiveness of the man not only restored his hope with God, but also enabled the man to do something, I suspect, he hadn’t been able to do for a while: go home.

Like the men in the Gadarenes, Jesus brought this man back to life. He raised him up, brought him back to life. Now he lives to God, to his family, and to the community. The reconciliation, healing and resurrection that Jesus gives to us is about so much more than our mere selves. The healing and resurrection of one person changes everything and everyone.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 at 1:27 am and is filed under Devotional, Theology, grace. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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