19 January 2018

Luke 5:17-26

“‘… But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ —he said to the one who was paralysed—‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’” (v. 24)

 Psalm: Psalm 3


Luke’s Gospel says of Jesus in this incident that “the power of the Lord was with him to heal” (v. 17). The term ‘Lord’ obviously refers here not to Jesus, but to the one whom Christians came to know as the first person of the Trinity. The reference to the power of God operating through Jesus is followed by the report of the complaint that, in declaring that the sins of the paralysed man were forgiven, Jesus was blasphemously presuming to do what only God can do. Jesus does not refute the charge that he is doing what God does. Instead, he heals the man, with the remark to his critics that this is done “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”. But Jesus is not a wonder-worker who performs healings in order to prove a point. Jesus responds to the need of the paralysed man, and to the love of the friends who brought him, by exercising the power which he has from the one he calls ‘Abba’ (Dearest Father). And he does this by virtue of being the ‘Son of Man’.

The title ‘Son of Man’ has been a matter of much scholarly argument. The term comes originally from the vision in Daniel 7:1-14 in which four monstrous beasts emerge in succession from the sea (the symbol of chaos to the Jews). They are then followed by one “like a son of man” (the NRSV says “like a human being”) (Daniel 7:13). In the scene from Daniel “the Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9) – God – gives authority and power to this mysterious figure. It can be debated whether capitalising the term in translating it in the Gospels may obscure something of Jesus’ intention. ‘Son of God’ is a human title which is given to Adam (Luke 3:38) as well as to the Messiah, but there seems to be something more than human about the one ‘like a son of man’ in the book of Daniel. In ordinary Jewish usage, though, ‘son of man’ is synonymous with ‘a human being’. In using the term to describe himself Jesus seems to be presenting his hearers with a conundrum which they have to solve for themselves. It is the same question that he poses later in the Gospel to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20).

To Ponder

  • In what ways may Jesus be saying to you, “Stand up and walk” for “your sins are forgiven you” (v. 23)?
  • Verse 26 says that “amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe”. How much room in your faith is there for amazement?
  • In the light of the ordinary Jewish usage of ‘son of man’ to mean simply ‘a human being’, some scholars have understood the title ‘Son of Man’ to mean that Jesus is ‘the truly human one’. What is it to be truly human?

Bible notes author

Dr Tony Moodie

Tony Moodie is currently the coordinator for discipleship development in the Methodist Church. Much of Tony’s career was spent in teacher education, teaching psychology and education studies. Voluntary work as a regional coordinator for the Theological Education College of Southern Africa, and a doctorate in theology, led to him being appointed as principal of TEE College. He then spent four years in Manchester as principal of Hartley Victoria Methodist College before taking up his present appointment. Tony’s academic interests have been widely spread but include worldviews and Eastern Christian theology. His particular concern in his current post is encouraging the development of prayer and of theological understanding as part of Christian discipleship.