IN THOSE DAYS, after getting into a boat, Jesus crossed the sea and came to His own town. Then behold, some people brought to Him a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This Man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” - He then said to the paralytic - “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And the man stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they marveled and glorified God, Who had given such power to human beings.
There are quite of few ways of looking at what Jesus does with the paralyzed man. But I would like to focus on why the Lord forgives sins when the man clearly was in need of physical healing.
The four Gospel accounts that are part of our Bible, obviously, do not contain every single thing that Jesus did or said. As Evangelist John says at the end of his Gospel account, "There are also many other things that Jesus did, if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25). Whether he is speaking figuratively or literally, the point is clear - Jesus performed more miracles and taught by word a lot more than what is written down. The most significant parts were written down, while the rest is preserved and passed down in the Church.
Therefore, as we read through what is on the pages of the Bible, we see that Jesus would not let a good opportunity slip by to teach an important lesson. One such opportunity was presented to Him when the paralyzed man was brought before Him. And the lesson was this - Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and God Himself.
Now, for us today, this statement (hopefully) is obvious. Of course He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world; of course He is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity; of course He is God because the Father and the Son are one.
This was not obvious to the hearers and followers of Christ at that time. As we can also clearly see from the pages of the Gospels, even His closest disciples betrayed and fled when He was crucified, and received the full revelation of Who He is at the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
So, as the paralyzed man is brought on a stretcher, Jesus sees him and says, "Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven." The scribes, present there, lost their collective minds at these words. Why? The scribes knew the Law of God almost perfectly. Part of their job was to copy the text of the Scripture, study the Law, and determine its application on daily life.
Hence, they knew very well that only God can forgive sin. That's why they said, "This Man is blaspheming." To proclaim someone forgiven is to do the work of God, and nobody can do God's work, but God. Even the greatest of the prophets of the Old Testament did not forgive sins. They did perform miracles by the power of God, they called the people of Israel to repentance and obedience to God, but they could never forgive anyone's sins. The Jewish priest also did not forgive sins. They offered sacrifices for their own sins and the sins of the people, but they did not confer forgiveness upon the people. Only God forgives.
Notice, Jesus does not challenge the scribes' general point that God alone forgives sins. He rather asks them a question, "Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?" The irony is that it is easy to say anything, to back up your talk is completely different.
And here lies the point of the whole story, "'But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' - He then said to the paralytic - 'Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.'" Meaning, if the man is healed by the words of Christ, Who forgave his sins before healing his physical ailment, then Jesus is God.
The point is not that God forgives sins and so can Jesus. Rather, the point is that Christ is God because He forgives sins. The purpose of the physical healing is to manifest Who He is. Jesus could have just healed the man and let him go, but the opportunity was perfect to teach something deeper about Himself - He is not just a prophet who has the power from God to heal. He is God and He came bringing forgiveness upon the people of the world.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest