Crossing the Line
While Jesus was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” – Luke 5:12-26 [ESV]
Where is your line? Does it have to do with your favorite sports team? Your child? Your spouse? Your church? Your politics? Your reputation? Most people have a line. It’s a place beyond which you will not go. A place were an opponent turns into a sworn enemy. A place where tolerance stops and judgment begins. Human trafficking. War mongering. Blasphemy.
Ah, blasphemy. There’s the rub. Jesus is well received as he is healing disease. A man is “full of leprocy.” He approaches Jesus asking for healing. Jesus complies and sends him to the priest. Well within the bounds of Jewish religious propriety. Jesus even tells him not to make a big deal that it was Jesus who did it. He directs him to do what Moses commanded. All is well.
Next, however, there comes a line. It’s interesting to me that the line that is crossed here is not the destruction of someone’s roof. It’s not the the fact that the friends interrupt Jesus in the midst of his teaching. But when Jesus claims to deal with the profoundly foundational need of all people by forgiving the man’s sins, the line is crossed.
“Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Who indeed. If Jesus is just some good natured faith healer, who sends people back to their synagogue or to the priest, all is well. He stays within the boundaries. He upsets no one. But if he claims to heal and to forgive sins, that’s another matter.
When I first attended a Lutheran worship service and the pastor said, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” I took offense. He can’t do that, I thought. I didn’t understand the fullness of the phrase, “in the name of…” I thought it was merely a religious add-on, like how we are supposed to end our prayers. Actually it is speaking as though God himself is speaking. The pastor isn’t forgiving. God is…through the pastor.
When we forgive we are doing exactly what Jesus taught us to do. And it’s all based not on our character and gracious kindness. It’s based on God’s nature and gift. For Jesus is speaking for himself as God in the flesh, and forgiving sins because that’s exactly what God does. And he will do so through Jesus’ suffering and death. His resurrection proves it. His ascension and second coming will culminate all that on the Great Last Day.
For Jesus there is a line not to be crossed. It’s when we call the work of the Holy Spirit (bringing us to faith) the work of the devil. But we do not do that! We may struggle with our faith. We may have doubts. But we delight in the work of the Holy Spirit who turns us to Jesus, and calls us to faith in him. That’s a line I don’t want to cross!