Luke 5:17-26 (click to display NIV text)
Feb. 17, 2013: First Sunday in Lent
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ The Pharisees and teachers of the Law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ ”
Jesus is the Savior. The angel says to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.” Now Luke reveals Jesus who is the Savior. How will Jesus express his role as Savior? It is by forgiving sins and healing and leading people to faith.
First we need to understand Jesus’ ministry of healing. The ancient world had a view of healing that was somewhat different than our modern medical understanding.
About thirty years ago, I developed a problem in my vision. A spot formed in my left eye, and grew, and it distorted my vision. So I went to an optometrist to see if he could fix it. But he said I would need to see a medical doctor, an ophthalmologist, to deal with such an issue. The ophthalmologist explained what was wrong, but said I would need to see a specialist, so he sent me to a doctor whose office was on the 13th floor of a high tower in Seattle, overlooking Puget Sound. That doctor sent me to a specialist in laser surgery of the eye. This one got me all ready, had me in the sights of his laser machine, and then pulled back and said, “I can’t do it. I will injure your optic nerve if I try.” And that ended the process. None of these doctors forgave my sins, or talked about them. None of them asked me about my family or my community or my work. None of them invited me back to talk more about these issues. They were only concerned about my eye.
So I asked the deacons in my church and a group of pastors to gather around me and pray for me. After some months the spot went away. I have been very thankful for my restored sight all these years, and I never take sight for granted and I deeply appreciate the fact I could see all these years.
But it strikes me that I came to ask for healing prayer holding a very modern, or medical, view of healing. The church did not speak about my sins either, or my sense of belonging in the community. They prayed for my eye.
In what I am calling a modern view of healing, we focus on the physical, on what can be done medically, and on the particular part of the body that is ailing. I do have great respect for that whole enterprise, and this is not about criticizing it. I realize that medicine is exploring what it means to be more holistic in treatment. My point is that to talk about Jesus the healer we must not take our modern view of healing and impose it upon him. In his day healing included the physical, the spiritual life of a person, their place of belonging in the community, and a reconciliation of their relationships.
Joel Green writes, “In the ancient world and in many non-western cultures, healing included or required the resolution of spiritual and social disorders.” The healing ministry of Jesus most often drew people back into their communities. Lepers and others who were outcasts were restored to synagogue, village and home life. Jesus healed this paralyzed man, and he also touched his soul. Even a story like that of Zacchaeus could be called a healing, because in the repentance of the tax collector, he was brought back into the community. Healing was understood as a release from some type of power that kept a person alienated or isolated. So today when we pray for healing in people’s lives, we should express concern for inclusion and belonging, for restoration of relationship, for forgiveness and peace in the soul.
In the narthex, by the coffee desk, we have a picture of Aaron Barg, a young man who had a condition called Trisomy 13, and who lived among us for his 18 years. What I observed in our church was a great deal of faith and prayer for Aaron, not for the removal of his Trisomy 13 condition, but for his inclusion in the church and for him to be seen as a valuable part of us, as one who not only had a place, but who could minister to us as we allowed his love to come into our hearts. You taught me a great deal about healing prayer and actions of faith as I watched you care for and interact with Aaron.
So the issue in this incident in Luke is much more than just, “Is Jesus a healer?” There were many healers in his day, and maybe there was some success in what they did. That is true today as well. But the issue is one of the authority and identity of Jesus. The Pharisees ask, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
A man who is paralyzed and some of his friends are on a quest for healing. They come to Jesus with faith, not just the attitude of faith, but a very active faith, willing to tear part of a roof off, digging through both tiles and a layer of mud. The paralyzed man is an outsider in that culture. He was forbidden from becoming a priest. There was a belief that he was imperfect, that he was unacceptable, that his physical paralysis pointed towards an inner problem of sin. In both forgiving and healing the man, Jesus is speaking not only to him, but also to the whole community. He enables the man to walk, but also to be accepted and affirmed in his family and synagogue and the larger community.
If Jesus had simply healed the man, that man would have been able to walk in his community, but with the eyes of the people on him still judging him to be a sinner. By pronouncing forgiveness, Jesus allows the man to re-enter his community freely. When Jesus puts forgiveness and healing together in that way, he is saying that he is the Savior.
It may have been in those days that the people were looking for a Savior who would free them from the Roman oppression. Jesus the Savior ministered in a deeper way. There was a belief in Judaism that healing would accompany the Messiah’s days. Many people would have understood the healing ministry as a sign that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior. But they may not have anticipated forgiveness. Yet this is the heart of the true need of people. In the relationship with the Savior, there is a heartfelt need for healing and forgiveness. This can take place on many levels.
I remember one night when a few deacons went to pray for a boy in our church who was facing a difficult surgery. He was so touched by the prayers for him, that later in the evening he asked his mother how he could receive Christ into his heart. You never know just where the healing prayer will touch a life. But Jesus sees us whole. Sometimes we focus on the external need and ignore the deeper needs. The Savior works in the heart to heal and forgive. This is the deeper work of Christ.
The account of the paralyzed man who is healed and forgiven points us to the cross. It is in the death and resurrection of Jesus that we find forgiveness, that our souls are healed, that Jesus is truly our Savior. Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, because he gave his life on the cross that we might be released from sin’s power. The salvation he brings is deeper than we realize. It reaches the inmost heart, and sets us free from what truly oppresses us.“Come to the Savior, make no delay; Here in His word He’s shown us the way; Here in our midst He’s standing today, Tenderly saying, ‘Come!’ Joyful, joyful will the meeting be, when from sin our hearts are pure and free; And we shall gather, Savior, with Thee, In our eternal home.”