The Reverend Elijah B. White
February 2, 2000
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus signs His own death warrant. You know the story:
Jesus’ “preaching the word to them” attracts such a crowd to a house that (Mark chapter 2, verse 2) “there was no longer room for them, even about the door.” Four friends bring a paralyzed man on a litter, hoping for a healing, but they can’t even get near the place – so, persistent and resourceful, they climb up to the house’s flat roof, pull out a section of brushwood and clay packed between the roof beams, and lower their friend’s litter down through the hole to lie at Jesus’ feet: you remember drawings of that dramatic scene from Sunday School.
Verse 5, “and when Jesus saw their faith” (the possessive pronoun “their” doubtless includes the sick man), their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” These words raise two related points: , the Hebrews’ connection of sickness to sin and , who has authority to forgive sin?
One major school of Jewish thought held that God causes everything that happens or doesn’t happen, good and bad, so therefore all misfortune or sickness or death must be God’s doing, punishment for sin. This bad theology produces such thinking as that of Eliphaz the Temanite, who asks suffering Job (Job chapter 4, verse 7) “Who that was innocent ever perished?” What a question! What implications, confusing the physical frailties of our mortal bodies with the moral judgments of God – I’d love to ask Eliphaz, “Who has ever not perished?”
Now, there are psychosomatic illnesses including paralysis, so it could well be that Jesus diagnosed this man’s problem as such and went straight to the point. There are hints: it’s unusual that in this healing Jesus makes my physical contact, and I think this is the only healing during which He says, “your sins are forgiven.”
In any case, when Jesus uttered these words He signed His death warrant. You see, the top religious authorities quite properly kept a sharp eye out for false or heretical religious opinions. The Sanhedrin, their supreme council in Jerusalem, was especially on the lookout for “false messiahs” because so many zealots had recently used such claims to incite armed political revolution. Perhaps the authorities sent scouts to check out this “Jesus,” since Nazareth and Galilee were long-time hotbeds of revolt.
So, “some of the scribes” [scholars learned in the Law and Scriptures] “were sitting there” [doubtless in the front row seats of honor to which their position entitled them] “questioning in their hearts, “’This is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”
Now be very clear about this − this is no grounds for anti-semitism. These Jewish scribes are legit, their question is on target, and their point is 100% accurate: only God, “God alone,” can forgive sins. You and I know that “Lige White” can’t forgive sins, that all any priest can do [wave he his arm ne’er so cunningly] is serve as a duly authorized agent reassuring and conveying that forgiveness which only God can give. We know this as Christians, and we learned it from the Jews who knew and taught it first. The problem here is not the scribes’ theology about God, but their failure to recognize the authority of God incarnate in Jesus who was and is the Jewish Messiah − as our Lenten class studied last year. The Hebrews’ long-longed-for Deliverer was at last standing in front of them, three feet away in that jam-packed little house in Capernaum, close enough to reach out and touch − but they failed to recognize Him, to know and acknowledge Jesus for who and what He is.
Therefore, because of the limitations of their perception, the scribes had to report to the Sanhedrin that this man Jesus was publicly claiming authority to do what God alone can do − which is “blasphemy,” they use the correct legal term, for which the Mosaic legal penalty is death − this Jesus was not only blaspheming God, but also making them look ridiculous by then healing the paralytic − leaving them in bafﬂed rage, which would not stay “baffled” long: rage will ﬁnd a way, the proper authorities would ﬁnd a way to stop this Jesus, soon.
So what can you and I learn from this? That God in Christ can heal our bodies, which of course can be only a short-term help, and can heal our hearts and souls, which can be forever. We can learn that this world, represented by the scribes and Sanhedrin and later by the Roman executioners, this world is no friend to God.
We can learn from the people involved here: which will we make our role models? 1) The scribes, prideful in their learning and sense of being “better” than most others, questioning in their hearts, failing to recognize the Son of God when He stood right in front of them –2) The crowd, who pressed )nearer to hear Jesus’ every word, who without intellectual cavils marveled at His power — 3) The stretcher-bearers, themselves hale and hearty, who with faith and hope labored with effort and imagination to help their friend by bringing him to Jesus — or 4), the sufferer himself, paralyzed by guilt or fear or illness or some combination thereof. We’ll never know how much of his willingness in this daring rooftop enterprise sprang from faith, how much from desperation that will try anything to be able to move again − we can’t tell what he thought, but we do know what he did: he believed what Jesus said; he accepted Jesus’ authority to forgive, a necessary precondition to accepting His forgiveness and, he did what Jesus told him to do: when Jesus said, “Rise, take up your pallet, and go home,” he did just that – he did not linger to celebrate his healing or dance for joy with his friends: no, verse 12, “he rose, immediately took up his pallet, and went out.”
You and I can learn from all the different people involved here, learn to marvel at God’s wondrous works, learn to help others come to Christ, learn to accept and obey and rejoice in His healing power, learn to confidently sing and pray, “Saviour, breathe forgiveness o’er us…. thus provided, pardoned, guided, nothing can our peace destroy!”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.