Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
Here we have a very familiar story. Many of us, as we were growing up, probably learned this story in Sunday School. However, there is a lot going on here and also some pictures of the Christian life.
In verse 20 St. Luke writes, “When He saw their faith”. Notice it says their faith, the faith of the friends not the faith of the paralytic. It was through their faith that his sins were forgiven. The fathers tell us to take courage from this statement. For there are times, maybe often or maybe just once in awhile, where we feel that our own prayers will have no effect. In those times, don’t despair but find friends who will pray for you that you may be delivered.
We have often heard, but I’ll repeat it again, we cannot be individual or Lone Ranger Christians. To remain strong in the Lord, we need the love and support of one another. We cannot go it alone because if we fall then there will be nobody to pick us back up and encourage us to continue on.
So then, if we are in despair call the intercessors and call the Church. Because the Lord regards His Church even if you do not trust that He will forgive because of your sins, He will forgive, what you think He may refuse you.
Those who let the paralytic down are not only the intercessors of the Church. They are also the doctors or teachers of the Church. We are brought to the faith through the witness and teaching of those who already know Him. St. Augustin sees him being brought to Christ on bed as a picture that we must come to Christ while we are still in the flesh i.e., before we end our life on earth.
They bring the paralytic to Christ and He does not say, “You are healed.”, but “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”. There are two things being said in this statement. First, He is addressing all of humankind. In the words of St. Cyril of Alexandria,
For those who believe in Him, being healed of the diseases of the soul, will receive forgiveness of the sins which they formerly committed.1
Second, it may mean that this sickness was caused by disease of the soul. As believers, we recognise that there are different types of illnesses. Some are directly and only caused by germs. Others are because partaking of a particular sin such as bitterness will cause our immune to be weakened. Still others are because of inappropriately partaking of the sacraments as we read in I Corinthians. We understand that there can either be a physical or a spiritual reason for sickness or a combination of the two when we fall ill.
In these last two types of situations, we need healing of the soul, before the healing of the body can take place. This full healing of both soul and body that we see in this passage shows the full likeness of the resurrection. In the words of St. Ambrose
Alongside of healing the wounds of body and mind, he also forgives the sins of the spirits, removes the weakness of the flesh, and thus heals the whole person. It is a great thing to forgive people’s sins—who can forgive sins, but God alone? For God also forgives through those to whom he has given the power of forgiveness. Yet it is far more divine to give resurrection to bodies, since the Lord himself is the resurrection.2
We see then the point that Christ is trying to convey to the Pharisees and the other onlookers. The healing of the body is the more divine action than the forgiving of sins. He came and took our flesh to return life back into our race. He has come to restore and resurrect, and forgiveness of sins is just a part of that.
I think that we, at least I have, been influenced by Gnosticism more than we realise. I often think that the incarnation is the means to forgiveness of sins. While Scripture and the fathers teach that Christ became incarnate to restore the creation. Forgiveness and a restored relationship with God are only a part of that full restoration. In St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he states that the creation itself will be delivered from corruption along with us.
The Pharisees raised a very good question. God is the only one who can forgive sins. (God does forgive through others. We will talk about that in a little bit). He received testimony from the Pharisees albeit unwillingly that He is God. He is forgiving sin; therefore, He is God.
St. Ambrose said that it is a great madness that while they confess that God alone can forgive sins, they refuse to believe God when He says that He forgives sins. However, they gave it and whether they believed it or not, Christ takes this witness from them.
From this point of admission, the burden was upon Christ to show whether he could forgive sin. Forgiving sin would be the evidence that He is God. Failure to do so would show that He is merely a man. Therefore, He quickly healed what was visible to confirm that He had forgiven the sins which were not visible.
He forgives sins as the incarnate God. However, we also have received from Him this privilege and admirable grace as well. In taking our flesh, He has crowned human nature with great honour, so that He has said to His Holy Apostles,
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
If you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
We must remember and take note of when He said these things to the Holy Apostles. It was not until after He had trampled on the power of death and risen from the grave. He then breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. It is only after the Apostles had received the Holy Spirit that they were given the authority to forgive sins.
We learn from this first, that at the time of the healing of the paralytic that God was the only one who could forgive sins. Second, today, that God can forgive sins through those who have been given this authority by Him.
Finally, the paralytic is commanded to take up his mat and go home completely healed. We also are to take up our mat after our soul is healed. This is the bed that the prophet David washed with tears every night. It is the bed upon which our soul lay sick with the cruel torment of conscience.
In this Lenten season, we are making a conscious effort to see where we need to repent. We are looking to see if our soul is sick with conscience and we are washing our bed with tears. God in His mercy looks upon us and will heal us that our bed of tears may become a bed of rest. As the paralytic returned home after being healed, so our soul after being healed has the way opened to return to paradise.
Let us purpose when we are discouraged to find a brother or a sister to pray for us. When we see our brothers and sisters discouraged, we must be proactive in praying for them.
Let us also look to the teachers of the Church for instruction. There is no shortage of resources for this. First, we can look to those who have walked with Christ for a good while and have instruction for us. Many of the writings of the Church Fathers are available online. There is also the Catena App that you can download on your phone and read the teachings of the Church from the beginning into the 19th century. We must purpose to learn from the instruction that have gone before, as we seek to develop our faith.
We need to especially during this season of Lent but also throughout the year to look to our lives. If there is need of repentance, let us be quick to do that and then ask for God’s healing to our souls.
Let us as often as we see God heal someone, remember to praise Him that this is proof that He forgives our sins as well.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
1 Thomas C. Oden and Peter J. Gorday, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament IX (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), ?