1. “Their faith”: Whose? Is the faith of the friends sufficient for the healing and forgiveness of the paralyzed man? This introduces a whole set of questions about salvation and faith that the text itself never addresses and seems entirely unaware of. The simple reading is that the faith Jesus notices is the faith of all of them – the friends and the man. And, the faith is not necessarily tied to a clear conviction about who Jesus is as Savior, but a strong sense – a faith – that Jesus can and will do something to help (Fitzmyer).
2. What do sin and illness have to do with each other? Last week, we mentioned the multiple dimensions of the healing of the man with leprosy – the social dimension and the medical dimension – two dimensions we separate today but which were indistinguishable in the ancient world. Likewise, there was, in Jesus’ time, a common assumption that illness and troubles were directly related to personal sin. Some examples in the Gospels:
"Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9.2)
“Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them- do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” (Lk 13.4)
Nevertheless, there are extended sections of the Hebrew Scripture (our Old Testament) that explicitly deconstruct the idea that sin and illness or trouble have a cause and effect relationship. But we’ve heard enough folks talk about karma and “what goes around comes around” to know that we still think in similar terms today. “What did I do to deserve this?” Often enough, the answer is, “Absolutely nothing.”
The story . . . Imagine the disappointment: Stories of Jesus’ healing power have been told and retold. You and your friends cook up a plan to meet the healer and nothing will stop you. Your friends cut through a roof and lower you into the room, to the feet of Jesus. And all he says is, “Your sins are forgiven.” What?!
But at that moment, Jesus severed the connection between sin and troubles or disease. He is perfectly comfortable dealing with those as separate things. He does heal the man from his paralysis, he does offer the healing as proof of power to forgive . . . but that is driven by the internal logic of folks who spend all their time judging the goodness of other folks, not by any commitment to the idea that the man’s sins are the cause of his paralysis. We have an expression we use when we are inquiring about the nature of a person’s sickness: “What’s wrong?” Once we are forgiven, there is NOTHING wrong with us. Illness, disease, troubles are not a holiness issue.
“There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8.1). Romans 8:31-39 If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What’s wrong with you? with me? How much time do we have? Sure, there are ways that we are blind to some of our sin. Most of the time, however, we are acutely aware of several ways that we could “improve”. Guilt isn’t the way. Shame isn’t the way. It starts with grace, with “Your sins are forgiven”, with “the peace of Christ be with you”. Jesus’ opening words to the paralyzed man must have been a great surprise. But I wonder if, as the meaning of the words sunk in, I wonder if the man started to grin and even laugh: Nothing is wrong with me!
There’s another dimension to the story that I’d like to explore for a few moments. It is the role of the friends. And, I’d like us to ask this specific question of ourselves: “What am I willing to do to get my friends to Jesus?” Their friend wanted to meet Jesus – and it is my experience that most folks today are actually interested in spiritual things, if not yet in Jesus himself. What am I willing to do to get my friends to Jesus?
More frequently, I hear the question, “Why don’t folks come to church?” Usually, it is not an honest question, that is, the person asking doesn’t want an answer whether sociological or spiritual. The person asking usually wants to make a comment about “people these days” and their lack of commitment . . . it’s a judgment, a statement of what is WRONG with people. And entirely unlike Jesus.
What am I willing to do to get my friends to Jesus? When I was a kid and my cousin came over to stay for a few days .... Zealous, yes. Not necessarily the most effective process in most situations, but it came in the context of a respectful relationship.
What am I willing to do to get my friends to Jesus? I am willing to pray for folks. I am willing to invite them to church and Sunday School and our fun events (and most people who do come, come because of a personal connection and invitation). Please pray for folks, please invite them. But I want to offer a challenge that is particularly connected to the themes of the Scripture: To live a life that is attractive and judgment free, to live a life of no condemnation, to live as a person with whom NOTHING is wrong. Living like that is going to get noticed – it just isn’t done, not nearly enough, in this world. We spend so much energy on guilt and shame, so much focus on judgment, that we miss out on the joy of the gospel. We forget to laugh with that man on the pallet who suddenly realizes that there is nothing wrong with him.
Hear the good news: Christ Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, and proves God’s love for us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!