First Mennonite Church
July 2, 2017
Seeing Jesus Meet People: With the Paralytic Man
Text: Luke 5:17-26
Today I want to start a new series of sermons on Gospel stories of Jesus’s meeting people. Throughout the gospels we find Jesus meeting with people of different backgrounds. He met the sick and the demon-possessed, people of high or low social status, he met with women and children, and he engaged the religious authorities of his day. Through each of these stories we can see glimpses of how Jesus represented God who sent him. Through these encounters we can learn how God’s grace, power, wisdom and judgment were revealed. As I have said on past occasions, most, if not all, Bible stories were written not only for the sake of recording history, but to help shape the faith and guide the practice of the emerging Christian communities. The relevancy of the Bible stories lies beyond the stories themselves. Much of the relevancy of the Bible stories lies in the themes they touch. In this way, the Bible stories can help us explore these themes in order to illuminate our Christian practice and to guide our faith.
The story for today is that of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. This story is found in Luke 5:16-26.
The story is plain. The characters are clearly identified. They are Jesus, the Pharisees, teachers of the law, a house full of people, and some unnamed men (let me assume they were four) carrying their paralyzed friend. Mark’s version of this story tells us Jesus was “back home” in Capernaum (Mk. 2:1). It’s most likely Jesus was at the home of one of his disciples. We are not told why Jesus preferred to stay inside the house, but the house was full to capacity. Sitting among the crowd were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who had come from far and near. As Jesus was speaking, four men sought a way to bring their paralyzed friend over to Jesus. For these men, the very fact of going through all the trouble to bring in their sick friend to Jesus is revealing. They cared deeply for their sick friend who if not carried on his bed would otherwise not have the opportunity of seeing Jesus face to face. They cared for their friend who otherwise would not have his sins forgiven and his body healed. These men wanted their friend to have the opportunity to meet Jesus, who could heal him. Luke does not tell us what Jesus was talking about to the crowd. Luke instead focuses on what happens after the four men had lowered their sick friend from an opening they made in the roof.
Again, this story although plain in its narrative form, also touches on various themes, which I think are important for us to consider. In verse 20 we are told that when Jesus saw what these men had done for their sick friend, “he saw their faith.” Therefore, here is the first theme: faith. What is faith in this context? We should not forget those who are sitting in the house. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were there. They were considered the people of faith, according to the Jewish religion. But, was their faith evident? Were they commended for their faith by Jesus? In contrast, implied in Jesus’ words it was faith that moved those concerned neighbors for their sick immobile friend to act beyond the norm. Their faith moved them to do something, which could have backfired, had Jesus not healed him. What if they had carried the man over to Jesus just to bring him back home in his bed? What if Jesus refused to heal their friend? Regardless of the possibilities and unknowns, these men acted out of love and compassion for their friend.
We are called people of faith. But how do we demonstrate our having faith? Can Jesus see faith in us? Do we have concern for others to the point of doing what might seem crazy or out of order for the sake of giving our friends the opportunity of meeting with Jesus who can heal and forgive them?
When the paralytic man was brought before Jesus, he (Jesus) pronounced him forgiven. He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The expectation of the four friends of the paralytic was that Jesus was going to heal him. That was their goal. However, Jesus declares him forgiven. Was Jesus dealing with the root cause of the man’s condition? Then, as in many cases today, people believed sickness is the consequence of sin. The other theme this story touches on is the relationship between sin and illness. Is illness the direct result of sin? Or is illness the result of our body’s vitality in decline? Is illness only a biological malfunction or chemical imbalance or weakness of the immune system? Today doctors tell us there are two main kinds of diseases. And we get sick from either of these two kinds of diseases. The first kind is due to infections of some kind. Illnesses of this kind are called infectious diseases. Colds are the most common form of an infectious disease. But there are other forms of infections: bacterial, parasitic, fungal and viral. The other way we get sick according to doctors is through non-infectious means. Illnesses of this kind can be caused by lifestyle choices a person makes or because of some kind of faulty genetic makeup. For example, skin cancer can be caused by the person’s prolong or continued exposure to the sun or it can be due to a genetic factor in the family. Mental illness can be the result of mental decline due to age or again the result of genetics. Heart disease is among non-infectious diseases. Heart disease can be caused by poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, or family genetics.
With this in mind, let us take the best care of ourselves, yet at the same time depend on God’s grace to restore us to good health when we get sick. Jesus did not question the man about the reasons for his condition. Jesus did not ask, “You had a stroke, eh? You were eating too much fried fish?” (Remember Capernaum is a lakeside city.) No, Jesus did not go that way.
When Jesus made the pronouncement of forgiveness, the Pharisees and teachers of the law began to question Jesus’ authority to do that. They concluded Jesus was committing blasphemy, because ONLY God can forgive (v.21). Blasphemy? What is that? In the context of Jesus, anyone using or mentioning God’s name was considered blaspheming. In the Hebrew Bible, the name of God is not pronounced when reading the Bible. Instead of reading the name of God, “Yahweh,” readers should only say, “THE LORD.” But also in the context of Jesus, failure to recognize God’s glory, or ungodly speech or actions or violation of God’s majesty was considered blasphemy. In the case of Jesus, his declaring forgiveness to the paralytic was understood as usurping God’s prerogative.
If blasphemy is having ungodly speech or doing ungodly actions, we must be very careful with our speech and actions. If blasphemy is failing to acknowledge God’s majesty and honor, we should be very careful not to give our allegiance to anything except to the Lord.
When Jesus realized that the Pharisees and scribes were murmuring in their heart he asked them, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” From a human perspective, declaring someone forgiven is easier because the consequence is subjective. If I were to declare you forgiven, there would not be need of an external evidence to support my words. But to declare someone healed demands concrete evidence for it to be true. Yet, we know that Jesus as God’s Messiah had the power to do both. Therefore, in order to demonstrate his power and authority to both forgive and heal, Jesus addressed the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” At that moment the man got up and picked up his “little bed” and went home glorifying God. It was not only the healed man who gave glory to God. Everyone, except the Pharisees and the scribes, were filled with amazement and also began to give glory to God.
Let me finish by making some final observations. Faith. Jesus saw the faith of these men by what they did for their bedridden friend. There was no obstacle that stood in the way of their helping their sick, needy friend. In Jesus’ eyes, faith is not passive or a set of beliefs to be affirmed. Faith is not something to be defended. In fact that was the greatest mistake of the Pharisees. They became guardians of orthodoxy—correct doctrines. They were moved by jealousy that someone could attract such large crowds as Jesus did. The Pharisees were zealous of the law and of God, but failed to act godly and in love; thus, they, instead of Jesus, were implicitly the blasphemers. They condemned the innocent and disregarded the needy. Jesus could not find faith in the Pharisees, regardless of their believing the right way.
As for the paralytic, meeting Jesus was more than a privilege made possible by his loving friends. Meeting Jesus allowed him to receive God’s unconditional mercy to which he responded most naturally—he gave glory to God. Let us remember the words of Jesus in Matthew, chapter five, verse 16: In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Others will give glory to God not because of our right beliefs, or our worship style, but when they see our good deeds.
Let us remember that however important it is for us to have the right beliefs or to have a biblically sound theology, having faith that acts in love and concern for others is what will lead to God’s glorification. Let us go out and seek ways in which we become agents of God’s glory. Amen!