Summary: Is forgiveness of sins the greatest need of a paralyzed man? Yes! It’s our greatest need too, and the greatest need of others we know.
Illus: I fainted and was taken in the middle of the night to the emergency room--returned in middle of the day wearing my pajamas! I felt like people were staring.
Maybe the paralyzed man was used to stares. But when he was lowered into the middle of a crowded room, I imagine he felt very much on display, almost like being naked. (Some people feel like that when they enter church for the first time--they feel like everyone is staring.)
In this house, everyone WAS staring. The house was already packed, full of the host and his friends, the neighbors, and the text says, "the teachers of the law were SITTING there (taking the few available seats). They had heard a loud pounding sound, and then the tearing of the roof of sticks and straw and sand and tar. Then they were showered by fragments, and finally a cloud of dust and burst of daylight. The people were scrambling then, trying to make room for the man to land, falling over and on top of each other.
Of course everyone stared! Some recognized him, others immediately saw that his body was limp. The stares alternate now between the paralyzed man and Jesus: Will Jesus heal him?
Jesus stares into the eyes of the man, then looks at the four friends peering through the hole in the roof. "What do you want? What is your greatest need?" He looks then around the room: "What do these people need?"
Jesus looks back at the paralyzed man, lying there helpless. And he says, "Son, your sins are forgiven." The man looks puzzled. People begin to whisper. The four men on the roof are stunned. Did they go to all this trouble for this? Is the man’s greatest need to be forgiven of some sin? Day after day, he lies on his bed or mat, perhaps pulling himself around with his arms. The world goes off to work, but he stays home, or relies on the kindness of friends or strangers.
He and his friends were desperate. When they heard about Jesus healing all those people at Peter’s in-laws’ house, and that now he had "come home," they decided to take a chance and take the man to Jesus. And when they saw taht their friend had no chance of getting in to see him, they decided on their desperate plan. They would have to fix the roof, of course!
But now, after all that, Jesus says, "Son, your sins are forgiven"?
IF FORGIVENESS THE GREATEST NEED OF THIS PARALYZED MAN?
Some people think maybe the man was a terrible sinner--that his paralysis was caused by a guilt reaction. (medically unlikely) Did he do something to cause it? (drive drunk and go off the road?) I don’t think this man was a horrible sinner. He had good, faithful friends, and faith in God.
I think the man understood better than most of us why he needed forgiveness. You see, some people who suffer rebel and try to blame God. Others gain a deeper understanding of the evil that permeates our world. The world is not as it should be: cancer, birth defects, depression, arthritis--war, abuse, unfairness. Those are evil, and symptoms of a world estranged from God. Suffering may bring out the best in people, or force some to confront the evil within every one of us. (Illus: a saintly old woman I knew who swore like a trooper after her stroke)
I think this man recognized his need for forgiveness. He had been forced to look into the darkness of his own soul. He wanted more than relief from the evil that paralyzed his body--he wanted to be restored, body and soul, to the way his life should be.
WHO CAN FORGIVE THIS MAN?
Can he be forgiven by the people he has wronged? (How bad can you be when you are paralyzed? I suppose you can say some pretty nasty things, until people walk away!) Can he forgive himself? (I suppose he might have had a bad attitude, or wasted his days in anger and frustration.) That might be healthy!
But Jesus says, "Your SINS are forgiven." SINS: breaking God’s law, missing the mark, personal offense against God. SIN: alienation from God, and from the life God intends for us to have. We all live with the alienation of sin. Some of it is global: the world is not right, life is not right. (How could the man miss knowing that? He’s paralyzed! That’s not right!) But even worse is the personal alienation: The man is not right (in any number of ways). The worst part of evil, (according to Solzenitzen) is that it is IN US.
This man needs help with both kinds of alienation: the global alienation that has led to his paralysis, and the personal alienation that has broken his relationship with God. He needs more than relief; he needs to be restored.