GET RIGHT WITH GOD
Jesus embarked on the boat, and crossed to the other side, and came to his own town. And, look you, they brought to him a paralysed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” And, look you, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming.” Jesus knew their thoughts. “Why,” he said, “do you think evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier–to say, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or, to say, `Rise and walk’? But to let you understand that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins–” then he said to the paralysed man, “Rise; lift your bed; and go to your house.” And he rose and went away to his house. When the crowds saw this, they were moved to awe, and glorified God because he had given such power to men.
From Mk.2:1 we learn that this incident took place in Capernaum; and it is interesting to note that by this time Jesus had become so identified with Capernaum that it could be called his own town. At this stage in his ministry Capernaum was the centre of his work.
A paralysed man was brought to him, carried on a bed by some friends. Here is a wonderful picture of a man who was saved by the faith of his friends. Had it not been for them he would never have reached the healing presence of Jesus at all. It may well be that he had become dully resigned and defeatedly hopeless, and that they had carried him almost against his will to Jesus. However that may be, he was certainly saved by the faith of his friends.
- B. Yeats in his play, The Cat and the Moon, has a sentence: “Did you ever know a holy man but has a wicked man for his comrade, and his heart’s darling?” It is the very characteristic of a really holy man that he clings to a really bad or an entirely thoughtless man, until he has brought that man into the presence of Jesus. If any man has a friend who does not know Christ, or who does not care for Christ, or who is even hostile to Christ, it is his Christian duty not to let that man go until he has brought him into his presence.
We cannot force a man against his will to accept Christ. Coventry Patmore once said that we cannot teach another religious truth; we can only point out to him a way whereby he may find it for himself. We cannot make a man a Christian, but we can do everything possible to bring him into Christ’s presence.
Jesus’ approach to this man might seem astonishing. He began by telling him that his sins were forgiven. There was a double reason for that. In Palestine it was a universal belief that all sickness was the result of sin, and that no sickness could ever be cured until sin was forgiven. Rabbi Ami said, “There is no death without sin, and no pains without some transgression.” Rabbi Alexander said, “The sick arises not from his sickness, until his sins are forgiven.” Rabbi Chija ben Abba said, “No sick person is cured from sickness, until all his sins are forgiven him.” This unbreakable connection between suffering and sin was part of the orthodox Jewish belief of the time of Jesus. For that reason there is no doubt at all that this man could never have been cured, until he was convinced that his sins had been forgiven. It is most probable that he had indeed been a sinner, and that he was convinced that his illness was the result of his sin, as it may very well have been; and without the assurance of forgiveness healing could never have come to him.
In point of fact modern medicine would agree whole-heartedly that the mind can and does influence the physical condition of the body, and that a person can never have a healthy body when his mind is not in a healthy state.
Paul Tournier in A Doctor’s Case Book, quotes an actual example of that: “There was, for example, the girl whom one of my friends had been treating for several months for anaemia, without much success. As a last resort my colleague decided to send her to the medical officer of the district in which she worked in order to get his permission to send her into a mountain sanatorium. A week later the patient brought word back from the medical officer. He proved to be a good fellow and he had granted the permit, but he added, `On analysing the blood, however, I do not arrive at anything like the figures you quote.’ My friend, somewhat put out, at once took a fresh sample of the blood, and rushed to his laboratory. Sure enough the blood count had suddenly changed. `If I had not been the kind of person who keeps carefully to laboratory routine,’ my friend’s story goes on, `and if I had not previously checked my figures at each of my patient’s visits, I might have thought that I had made a mistake.’ He returned to the patient and asked her, `Has anything out of the ordinary happened in your life since your last visit?’ `Yes, something has happened,’ she replied. `I have suddenly been able to forgive someone against whom I bore a nasty grudge, and all at once I felt I could at last say, yes, to life!'” Her mental attitude was changed, and the very state of her blood was changed along with it. Her mind was cured, and her body was well on the way to being cured. This man in the gospel story knew that he was a sinner; because he was a sinner, he was certain that God was his enemy; because he felt God was his enemy, he was paralysed and ill. Once Jesus brought to him the forgiveness of God, he knew that God was no longer his enemy, but his friend, and therefore he was cured.
But it was the manner of the cure which scandalized the scribes. Jesus had dared to forgive sin; to forgive sin is the prerogative of God; therefore Jesus had insulted God. Jesus did not stop to argue. He joined issue with them on their own ground. “Whether,” he demanded, “is it easier to say, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up and walk’?” Now remember that these scribes believed that no one could get up and walk unless his sins were forgiven. If Jesus was able to make this man get up and walk, then that was unanswerable proof that the man’s sins were forgiven, and that Jesus’ claim was true. So Jesus demonstrated that he was able to bring forgiveness to a man’s soul and health to a man’s body. And it remains eternally true that we can never be right physically until we are right spiritually, that health in body and peace with God go hand in hand.
Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Back to: Barclay’s Commentary