It was the perfect setup.
There Jesus was, surrounded by crowds of people, all of them hanging on His every word. Matthew version of the story doesn’t give us many details, but you can only imagine the big commotion that was caused as the paralyzed man is brought to Jesus’ feet (Mark and Luke mention that the man was lowered down through the roof) carried there by his friends. I’m sure all the onlookers eagerly anticipated what would happen next.
Would they see another miracle?
Could Jesus really make a paralyzed man walk?
No doubt, the paralytic was also looking up at Jesus. He’d probably been in that same bed for years. Would Jesus free him from the prison of a body that could not move even one inch? In hushed silence, the crowd hold’s it’s collective breath, as the Lord opens His mouth to speak. But Jesus says the most awkward thing possible:
“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
No one expected Him to say that.
The man needed healing not forgiveness.
However, I can’t help but think that Jesus intended the awkwardness. It so perfectly and dramatically highlights the purpose of His ministry. Yes, He came into this world to heal humanity, but not just from sickness and disability. His true work was to bring about the ultimate healing from the most disabling diseases, sin and death. And despite what He says to the Pharisees about which is easier—to forgive a man his sins or to heal him from paralysis–the latter would require only the word “rise,” while the former would require our Lord to lay down His life. No, forgiveness would not be easy for Jesus.
But the awkward placement of forgiveness in this text should also remind us of the true nature of the Church’s work. For as much as we are to love the world around us by addressing physical needs–helping the sick, the hurting, the poor and needy–our one true calling is to bring the good news of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ to all people. In our ministry and in our worship, forgiveness of sins must always be the central theme. Everything else the Church offers is secondary. The forgiveness of sins is always primary.
When Christians forget this, we end up being a lot like the usher in the posh theater, who noticed a man sprawled across three seats. “Sorry, sir,” the usher said, “but you’re only allowed one seat.” The man groaned but didn’t budge. The usher became impatient and said, “Sir, if you don’t get up I’m going to have to call the manager.” Again, the man just groaned. Infuriated by this, the usher marched briskly back up the aisle in search of his manager.
In a few moments, both the usher and the manager returned and stood over the man. Together the two of them tried repeatedly to move him, “All right buddy,” the manager said, “what’s your name?” “Sam,” the man moaned. “Where did you come from, Sam?”
With pain in his voice, Sam replied, “The balcony.”
You see, the usher only saw what he thought was the problem—a man who seemed drunk and was breaking the rules of the theater. But whatever things may look like on the surface in the world around us, we know that sin is the root cause. Like falling from a balcony, sin damages every human being in incalculable ways. So when we as Christians look at a world full of all kinds of confusion, pain, and hurt, we know the real cause. And we know what the true cure is. And when we encounter people who are living in ways that are blatantly sinful, it is not our place to judge them or condemn them, it is our calling to offer them the medicine they truly need—a Savior who loves them and died to secure forgives for them.
Of course, offering forgiveness will not always be well recieved. Not everyone will want to hear that they need it. But Jesus never hesitated to make forgiveness the main point of everything He did. Neither should we. The church today must strive to approach the world as Christ did. He didn’t condemn people. He forgave them. Furthermore, He didn’t wait for people to get their act together. He didn’t stand off at a distance judging them. No, Jesus took the initiative to bring true healing and offered the medicine of forgiveness to all who needed it.