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Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. 2 Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”
3 But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”
4 Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? 6 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
7 And the man jumped up and went home! 8 Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority. – Matthew 9:1-8
“Nobody wants to bring people to Jesus.” Those words stunned me. It was an observation by a Christian counselor who was helping me understand some of the frustration I was having with a difficult person in my life at the time. He was challenging me rather than to complain or bristle at the person in question, to take them to Jesus, that is to let Jesus’ forgiveness form the basis of our relationship. Most of us would rather not have to do that. Most of us, furthermore, don’t think of bringing someone to Jesus in the way that we see here in this encounter of Jesus with the four friends and the paralyzed man.
But these four friends do exactly and literally that very thing. They carry their friend on a pallet to the place where Jesus was teaching. And once there, discover that the crowd was so large that they couldn’t get to Jesus. So rather than give up, they carry the man to the roof, dismantle it, and lower the man to Jesus while he’s teaching. The detail about lowering the man through the roof is found in Luke 5:18-19.
Little is said about the man on the pallet. He is simply along for the ride. He cannot get to Jesus on his own. He cannot force himself through the crowd. No words of his are recorded. We see only Jesus forgiving the man’s sins, and telling him to get up and walk. Then we see him walk out in front of them all. I wonder what was the expression on his face.
Sadly I can easily imagine the expression on the faces of the scribes and Pharisees. I can imagine their heads leaning back. The looks down their noses. The conspiring whispers. The disgust of Jesus’ blasphemy. How could he forgive sins!
This is grace. It does not let self-righteous intimidation stand in the way of mercy and forgiveness. Grace is willing to let people think badly about it. Grace will not let self-righteousness throttle God’s love. Grace also realizes that we need help. Sometimes it’s very obvious. Most often we try to hide it. But when we see someone in need of getting to Jesus, we have a way by which we may show true grace. That’s a blessing to give and to experience.
We may not always understand how in need of God’s grace we are. That is made clear, however, by Jesus’ initial gift to the paralyzed man. Whether he was disappointed at being told his sins were forgiven – as opposed to being healed by Jesus – is not clear. But Jesus makes two points in his action on this occasion. First of all he sees and responds to our greatest need: the need for forgiveness. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation (Luther). And he makes the point that he has the authority to forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins. Jesus is God. In the flesh. Full of grace and truth.
Whenever we bring someone to Jesus, we are bringing them to truth and grace. We are doing a very good thing. Truth be told, we need to do that with each other every moment of every day.