The gospel holds a question that I have never before stopped to consider in the way I heard it today. As I reflected, I noticed even a lot more in the short passage that led me to a deeper place. In MT 9:1-8, Jesus has just returned to “his own town” where he encounters a paralyzed man, brought to him on a stretcher by people who obviously have faith in his power to heal. There is no conversation; Jesus just saw their faith and immediately said, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”
I probably wouldn’t have thought much about the encounter in this very familiar passage but a second look at the entire event gave me much more to ponder. When the scribes who were in hearing distance thought to themselves that Jesus was speaking in a way that could be called blasphemy (speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things), Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked them, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise and walk?’ My guess is they were quite surprised that he was reading their thoughts.
My original intent in writing about this passage was to consider the question just raised by Jesus. I wondered what the scribes would have answered if Jesus had given them a chance. He did not do that, however, but indicated that his purpose was to show his “authority on earth to forgive sins” rather than his ability to heal the body. Most likely because they were not at a level of development to understand what that meant, he then told the man to “rise, pick up your stretcher and go home.” The conclusion of the passage illustrates a lack of understanding on the part of the whole crowd of who Jesus really was, noting that “when the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to men.”
So what is my point? In a sense it is the thought I started with: a consideration of internal and external healing. We are living in a time when the consciousness of the connection of body, mind and spirit is evident in the literature of mainstream culture as well as in spiritual circles. Meditation is touted as essential to health and wholeness as is physical exercise. Healing of memories is as important as dealing with present-day conflicts. The soul and the body are both in need of healing. Jesus was talking about the former while observers were waiting for the cure of the latter.
My wondering has now come full circle. My question to myself was: If I were the paralyzed person to whom Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven,” would I be shocked and resistant at being judged a sinner (and thereby, probably not cured) or would I recognize the need for forgiveness and let that be enough, whether or not my body was freed from paralysis? It’s a question of humility and recognition, it seems, as well as a trust in God’s unconditional love that takes more than a quick look inside to answer honestly.