Do you know the story about the paralysed man whom Jesus healed? The man was carried on his mat to a house where Jesus was speaking the word to a large crowd. The people who were carrying the man couldn’t get past the crowd, so they took their friend and his mat onto the roof and unroofed a section. Once the hole was big enough, they lowered the man to the floor in front of Jesus. The Lord then told the man that his sins were forgiven, and, to confirm the reality of this forgiveness, Jesus healed him. The man happily walked home carrying his mat.
This story is a favourite of Sunday School classes, or at least it was when I was a child. In my experience, the pitch for the story usually is that the paralysed man and his friends came to get the man’s paralysis healed, and the man got something better. It might be so. People who come to Jesus for one reason sometimes end up with something other than what they expected. For example, Lord Lyttleton and George West were young men (in the eighteenth century) who did not believe Jesus rose from the dead. They made a pact to investigate the claims in the New Testament about this and the conversion of Paul. They meant to expose the fraud that they imagined was being perpetrated by the Bible. They both ended up publishing books, one of them confessing himself convinced of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the other stating that Paul really was converted in the way the Bible tells it.
But back to the paralysed man. Why should we assume that the man and his friends were coming to Jesus so he might have his paralysis healed? Admittedly, Jesus had been healing all sorts of medical and mental problems before these people come to him. News had got around. Yet, there is something in the urgency of these people that suggests to me that conviction of sin was behind it. What I’m suggesting is that the paralysed man was acutely aware of his sin. The Pharisees and teachers of the day were good at telling people that they were sinners. In this they were correct, although they wrongly excluded themselves from that just condemnation. So the man would have had a clear idea that he was not right with God, that, if he were judged for his sins, he would have no excuse or escape. Having this conviction of sin would make a person keen for relief.
I suspect that the paralysed man, or one of his friends, had heard what Jesus had been saying about good news for the poor and release for prisoners. He might even had heard of John the Baptist’s remark that Jesus was the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Nevertheless, make no mistake; Jesus was not going around Judea and Galilee speaking about ways to achieve physical well-being. His main aim was to seek and to save lost sinners. This aim, and what he would do to save people from sin, was the focus of his talks.
So I suggest that the urgency to see Jesus, to hear him speak the word (the good news to sinners) was what got these people digging through the roof of the house where Jesus was. They were trusting that Jesus was the only one who could help this man with his sin problem. Then, when Jesus saw their faith, he said the words the man was longing to hear: ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’ The physical healing, though I’m sure it was welcome, was incidental. I don’t think it was the main game for the paralysed man. The healing was so we can know that Jesus has authority to forgive sins on earth – then and there, and here and now, by speaking the word. This authority comes from who Jesus is, and from what he did in dying on a the cross for his people and rising again from the dead.