This is a story illustrating Jesus’ healing power. With a simple command – “Stand up. Take your bed and go home.” – he heals a paralyzed man.
It is also a story about the authority with which he forgave sins: he says to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
And, as with many healing stories in the gospel, it is a story that provokes a dual response: There is both a positive reaction – “When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings” – and a negative reaction – “Some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’”
But my attention is drawn this morning to something else, a short phrase tucked away in the text. It has to do with the friends who carried the paralyzed man to Jesus. The phrase is this: “When Jesus saw their faith…”
For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk?’
I do not really know, Jesus. That is the challenge of our walk of faith, is it not? Forgiveness. To arise, to walk, knowing we are forgiven. It is all too easy a thing to say, ‘I forgive you.’ But I think all of us know that the manifestation of those words in a lived, shared life can feel as daunting and impossible as trying to cure paralysis with a speech act. It is easier to say, ‘I forgive you.’ It is harder to live the sacrifices required of what is said.
The scribes in this morning’s gospel—however swayed by ‘even thinking’ in their hearts—are nonetheless right: true forgiveness—forgiveness of sins, forgiveness of human disintegration—is the property of the divine. It is priceless. It has the power to bring life out of death. But of course the scribes don’t quite see what is in front of them.
Therein lies the miracle of today’s gospel. Yes, a paralytic man regained authority over his limbs, but this is not what amazes the crowds, and it is not what should amaze us. For the healing of the paralyzed man is merely the sign of something much more significant. As with all of Jesus’ miracles, I often have to remind myself that the sign is not itself the thing signified.
“Here I am.” Hineini in Hebrew. A phrase used three times by Abraham in this relatively short passage. A phrase that acts in the Torah as a narrative pivot, a turning point, as the one who utters it responds to God – or another person − in readiness, vulnerability, and expectation. “Here I am” – as if to say: I am present with my whole heart to the need or command before me. I do not know what it will demand of me, nor do I know how it may change me. I am present to this encounter. I am present to this challenge. I am present to this possibility.
Abraham responds, “Here I am” to the God who calls him by name. He replies, “Here I am” to his son Isaac, who asks innocently “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And he utters, “Here I am” to the Angel of the Lord, who intervenes at the final moment, revealing God’s true intention.