One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”
I think we can all agree that miracles don’t happen as often as we like them to. We all have a story to tell of a miracle we have witnessed or heard about or experienced ourselves, but we also have countless stories of tragic loss. Too many children have died, too many marriages have crumbled, too many people remain entrenched in chronic illness and pain. Sometimes we pray, and miracles happen. Other times we pray harder, and they don’t.
I’ve always been a bit perturbed at Jesus’ words in the above text. Healing the man seems a side issue to him, with the greater issue being that of the forgiveness of sins. Doesn’t he see that the man is paralyzed? That he needed friends to carry him around? That healing was so important to him that he risked humiliation in front of a crowd of critical onlookers?
In our evangelical culture, we like to talk a lot about the sinners and their need for forgiveness. The emphasis is usually on the sin of the other–the homosexuals, the prostitutes, the drug addicts–while we nominally pay tribute to our own sins but rarely admit to those that plague us most deeply, like pride, envy, greed, and narcissism.
And so when I think of Jesus talking about the forgiveness of sins, my first assumption is that he is pointing out this mans sins before healing his body, calling out his failings before making him whole.
But maybe that’s not how it played out. Maybe I need to forget my assumptions and step back into this text, into this world in which a paralyzed man was a broken, useless part of society, in which acceptance and grace were more elusive than miracles.
So maybe Jesus’ response looked more like this:
Maybe healing was secondary, because what this man really needed was to be called “friend”. To be embraced and accepted, just as the pope embraced this man covered in lesions, a man whose father would not even embrace him.
Even before he was made whole, Jesus looked at the paralyzed man and accepted him into his Kingdom. He was enough, just as he was, before any healing took place.
It’s tempting to wish the healing were primary. And yet, I know that my life could be scattered with miracles, but without the acceptance and presence of Jesus in the midst of all of my joy and pain, the miracles would not be enough.
On January 23, our baby did not have a heartbeat. We were told that it had died. And we were crushed.
And then, on January, 30th, our baby did have a heartbeat. We were filled with joy and praised God for our miracle.
But on February 6th, our baby’s heart no longer beat, and on February 7th, I took a drug to induce the (very, very painful) miscarriage of our baby.
Our miracle was elusive. It left as quickly as it came.
I would like Jesus to have told my baby’s heart to beat again. But instead, he kept my heart beating. Loss like this threatens to kill a soul, but as I looked at this ultrasound screen and saw my lifeless child, the first thing I knew was that we would make it through this. I entered the appointment thinking I would die if our baby did not live, but I left knowing that Jesus was upholding me with strength and peace.
I have a God who calls me friend, whose love is steadfast, despite all my failings. Even when I am broken and crushed, especially when I am broken and crushed, he is near me. And we are picking up these broken pieces together, making good out of this mess and creating beauty from the ashes.
I wish Jesus had told my baby to “stand up and walk”. But instead, he said these words to me. I’m not going to say that is enough, because in this broken world, nothing will be enough until the day all is made right. But for now, there is comfort and peace. There is a God who kneels down to hold my hand. And that in itself is a miracle.