This is one of those stories which is easy to lose sight of. This happens often in Luke: Jesus says or does something that’s amazing, but it’s so amazing that we kind of lose sight of why he says or does it and for whom he says or does it. As we read this story it’s easy to focus on the man who gets healed, but that’s not really who it’s about. But the healing is so amazing that this is where our attention tends to go. I would argue that this story is not about a miraculous healing as it is about authority.
The crowds have gathered around Jesus such that some friends can’t get their friend in need to Jesus to heal him. So they get creative (and I LOVE this creativity), and they find a way to lower him down to Jesus through the roof. Can’t get through the door way? Just go through the roof! He’ll be hard to miss. And that’s exactly how it played out. Luke says “when Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘friend your sins are forgiven.'” Remember that in those days the common belief was that things such as paralysis were connected to one’s sin, whether it was their own or their elders’. So Jesus’ proclamation here is a way of healing. But notice that healing is not the direct outcome of his statement. What Luke tells us after Jesus offers these words of absolution is that the Pharisees began to question, and in so doing, accuse Jesus of blasphemy. From here, the scene shifts. It is not about some friends bringing someone they care about to Jesus to be healed. It is about whether Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. Everything that happens from this point on in the story is about establishing authority with the established authorities who are questioning Jesus’ authority. Did you follow that? The paralyzed man is no longer the subject of the scene with Jesus. The Pharisees are.
So Jesus asks the question, “which is easier, to say, ‘your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, “Stand up and walk’?” This is a tricky question. On the surface, it would seem that forgiving sins would be easier to say, because there’s no real way to prove that you did it or not. So the Pharisees basically call, wanting to see what Jesus is holding, and it turns out he’s the got the cards. He’s not bluffing- you might say he’s got a full house. Yes, Jesus heals the man. But in this time, place, and culture, forgiving someone can only by done by God. No one has authority to do that, which is why the Pharisees accused him a moment ago of blasphemy. But since one’s physical well being was intricately connected to the spiritual well being, the physical healing of this man also becomes a way of proving his forgiveness. Jesus does both, and in so doing proves undeniable authority.
This story is not really about this man. It’s about the ongoing discourse between Jesus and the religious establishment. He is a challenge to them, he is a threat to them, and the tension between him and them is only going to get greater. As we read through Luke, watch for more scenes like this one- scenes that seems like a nice story, but by reading a little more closely we discover that it’s really about this ongoing battle about who Jesus is, what Jesus is doing, and by what or whose authority he’s saying and doing it.