6 December 2010

Luke 5:17-26

"When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven you.'" (v.20)


Around Jesus is assembled the moral and spiritual leadership of all Israel. (Pharisees were highly disciplined and devout lay people; the teachers of the law, or scribes, were formally trained experts in law and theology.) 

To what does Jesus bear witness? That he has God's power to heal - yes. But there is a more challenging and controversial claim: that, in God's name, Jesus may pronounce the forgiveness of sins. 

In verses 22-23 Jesus confronts his critics with a difficult question: Is it easier to declare God's forgiveness or to heal? Popular religion at that time insisted that sickness was punishment for sin. So healing was forgiveness. (Thoughtful people knew the links were much more complicated - they, surely, had read the Book of Job?) 

God regularly appointed people to heal the sick and to exorcise demons. But when God healed, God was no more 'personally' involved with a sick person than a professional doctor would be today when prescribing medicine.

But forgiveness would be something different. It would be an initiative by God of a profoundly 'personal' kind: God clearing out of the way all that had prevented a relationship, so that a friendship could be formed. God and a forgiven person would be open to each other in love and trust. 

In ancient Palestine people supposed that God would forgive only when the kingdom of God came - a new order of peace and justice to displace the rough, tough life we all know. God would pronounce forgiveness through God's 'right hand man' (the Son of Man). 

Jesus implies that he is the earthly embodiment of the Son of Man. He has authority to change everything in relation to God - now. The kingdom is here! The healing of the paralysed man was a wonderful, but secondary, outcome of the greater mystery: God's decision to forgive his sins. 

In addition, the whole episode made crystal clear how forgiveness is made real. It is through faith. That's what the paralysed man and his friends had: determination, courage, imagination, confidence and hope, to achieve their ambition to get close to Jesus. That's how to access divine grace. 

To Ponder

Think back to a situation where you badly wronged someone and you had to wait for them to forgive you. How did you feel when they let you know they held no grudge against you?

Is there someone who has hurt or wronged you, whom you need to forgive? What steps must you take to let them know you want to clear the air?

Has anything happened to you that you feel you cannot forgive? Who are you able to talk to about this, in confidence?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.