One day, while Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? 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.’ Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’
Jesus asked: Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven you’, or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?
Jesus addressed this question to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who were, yet again, hoping to find fault in him. They felt very threatened by Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God and the way he wanted us to enter into a new type of relationship with God. Those Pharisees and teachers of the law were desperate to prove that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. It is in response to their desperation that Jesus asks his question.
If we pause and reflect for a moment we will find that there is much we can learn from Jesus’ response to those religious leaders. It is actually easy to say anything, but it is not always easy to live up to the challenge of our words. Jesus’ message is consistently a message of love and forgiveness for all. Jesus calls us to forgive those who would do us harm, no matter who they are or how great the harm they intend. If we take this call seriously we will feel the need to say: Your sins are forgiven. But … there is a wide gulf between saying the words and meaning them. As we journey through December our thoughts are largely focused on the coming Christmas celebrations, that time of peace and good will. We know the story very well, just as we know that Jesus, later in his earthly life, told us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. However, so many of us struggle with that level of forgiveness, even at this joyous time of the year. As people struggle with the secular and commercial aspects of Christmas, tempers fray and the capacity for forgiveness, which is probably always very fragile indeed, becomes something of a pipe-dream. We join with everyone else in being rude and self-centred, demanding the very best for ourselves and being prepared to fight tooth and claw for it. Perhaps the answer to Jesus’ question is that it is definitely not easy to say: Your sins are forgiven!
So, what about the other part of Jesus’ question: Stand up and walk. I am sure that most us will realize the challenge in these words, particularly in the context of today’s reading, where Jesus causes a paralysed man to do just that: Stand up and walk! We are not miracle workers, or are we? No, we are not likely to be able to cure the severe physical disabilities of our neighbours but we are all capable of making them feel six feet tall and as though they are walking on air. Rather than waving a magic wand we just have to show Christian love and charity.
The truthful answer to Jesus’ question is that there is no real choice to make. By forgiving others we are showing a level of love and respect that can heal the broken hearts of others. Extending a helpful hand in a forgiving, generous and loving way will make others feel valued; it will make others feel healed within damaged relationships. It will also bring healing into our own lives.
Today’s challenge is to recognize that Jesus is not really asking those Pharisees and teachers of the law a question, rather he is pointing them, and us, towards the true Christian life.