(To Accompany Luke Live! Online! On YouTube.)
Now we may reflect on these two powerful healing stories. In the first we recognize Jesus is fearless in restoring the leper back to health and communion with others, for to allow another to be isolated without a tangible sense of belonging is an affront to the Kingdom. Jesus in not afraid to touch the leper, to heal him and offer him acceptance back into community—this acceptance confirmed through Jesus’ order the cleansed man get official recognition from the priests. All of this points to what makes Jesus’ healing unique among other healings: their purpose is not only to remove a sickness in an individual but in society at large. For Christ, no suffering or illness is to alienate us from others but rather the community is urged to welcome and support everyone especially in his or her time of distress. Only this way can society redeem itself from pride and arrogance and those underlying fears that separate people and exacerbate suffering. As we have noted earlier, Jesus does not want special recognition for this accomplishment, he thwarts celebrity status because his example is meant to be applied universally to all of humanity. What may seem “special” in Jesus is meant to be the norm for all peoples.
The healing of the paralytic is significant in that it is the faith of the paralytic’s friends that evokes Jesus’ healing him. Here we see how the faith of individuals impacts others and the incident evidences the bond that faith establishes between the healthy and the sick. Furthermore, this healing exemplifies the interconnection of bodily and spiritual health and well-being. Jesus is concerned with both because the human body and spirit are of one and the same entity, fulfilling the very design and intention of God. Also, note that although on the surface it may seem there is a direct correlation between one’s sins and physical health, many scholars today interpret Jesus’ words “Your sins are forgiven” not to apply to the paralytic’s personal sins (which would indicate on some level that sickness is a punishment for sins—an ancient concept that Jesus refutes elsewhere in the Gospels) but rather “sins” here refers to the collective offenses of humankind grounded in denial of God and the inter-connectedness of all people and all creatures–all aspects of God’s creation. It is true that our emotional and spiritual condition (that may encompass feelings of guilt, resentments, and regrets) does, in fact, impact our bodily health, but the Gospel gradually moves us away from that old sense that sickness is a direct punishment for individual sins. (You may wish to consult Luke 13:1-5, Matthew 5: 45, John’s Gospel 9:1-3 and, of course, the entire book of Job—the innocent man who suffers not as a punishment for sins but simply because suffering exists in this world.)
Here, I would like to remind you of a GOLDEN RULE for encountering Scripture: Never take one passage and keep it isolated from other passages. Every segment of scripture evidences a stage in the people’s spiritual development which grows in sporadic leaps, and, at times, regresses to earlier insights. Therefore, the true value of a passage may only be discerned when segments on similar topics are place in conversation with them. Considering JOB and the Gospel verses cited above, it should be clear that Jesus is speaking about the universal SIN of worldliness devoid of attentiveness to God and God’s ways–something that all of us participate in often without realizing it. That is “the sin that is forgiven.” Moreover, may it not be lost on us that as “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” Jesus concretizes what his fellow Jews already knew and should have known better: God wants us to participate in God’s essence. God’s Forgiveness is to be expressed and lived out continually among all who see themselves as children of God. (I will address more on the complexity of the processes of forgiveness and the distinction between offering forgiveness and accepting abuse or tolerating evil in the weeks to come!)