The Book of Matthew

Jesus and the Paralyzed Man, Part 2

Matthew 9:1-8 This week’s lessons provide us with the first example in Matthew’s Gospel of opposition to Jesus, and the contrasting need to repent of our sin and come to Christ for forgiveness.
The Offense of the Scribes

Now in our story of the paralytic we have a fourth reaction, and this is a bit further along that spectrum—from indifference, to rejection, to what we now find to be anger or offense at Jesus’ sayings. This is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that we actually find opposition to Jesus. Each of the Gospels has their own way of talking about it, and of course they need to because the flow of the story is from an initial acceptance of Jesus as somebody who’s speaking in a remarkable way and doing remarkable things to the crucifixion. And somewhere along the line between the initial response to him and the crucifixion there had to be a turning of opinion. Each of the Gospels talks about it, and Matthew does in this story as well. This is the first time where we find this anger. The anger came from the teachers of the law, the scribes, those who should have known better, but who were offended at him because of something he said.

The story is interesting and the point at which we begin is to ask why they were offended. This miracle is told in greater detail both in Mark 2 and in Luke 5. Now what we’re told in those Gospels, when we put those accounts together with this one, is that there was a man who was paralyzed but who had four friends. The friends wanted to bring him to Jesus because they believed that Jesus could heal him. When they came they found that Jesus was in a house, but there was a great crowd around the house, such that they could not get to Jesus.

So they went up onto the roof and removed the tiles or whatever the covering was, and then very carefully, probably with ropes, lowered their friend on his mat down where Jesus was teaching. That’s a very dramatic entrance. Here’s Jesus in the house, probably with a lot of people there, plus all the people pressing around outside. All of a sudden the ceiling is removed and down comes this man in his physical need and inability, and more importantly, as the story makes clear, in his sin.

This is where Matthew picks up the story. When Jesus saw the faith of this man and his friends, he said to him, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.” That’s the point at which the teachers of the law objected. They said, “This fellow is blaspheming.” Or as it is said in greater detail both in Mark and Luke, “Nobody can forgive sins but God only.” In other words, the scribes concluded that if Jesus is saying, “I forgive your sin,” he must be acting as if he is God. And who in the world does he think he is talking like that? He must be guilty of blasphemy. Now of course the interesting thing about that is that so far as they perceived the situation they were absolutely right. They said, “Nobody can forgive sins but God only.” And of course that is true. So who does Jesus think he is to claim to have the authority to do something that only belongs to God? That is what the scribes are thinking about Jesus.

Of course what this story teaches us is that Jesus is in fact making a claim to be God. His words and actions fit together, which provides evidence for his deity. What kind of person can possibly tell someone that his sins are forgiven? To use the categories that C. S. Lewis used in Mere Christianity, one possibility is that Jesus was absolutely out of his mind, thinking he was actually forgiving their sins but of course he was just a human being who could no more forgive their sins than anybody else. The second possibility that people have given is that he was a deceiver. He knew perfectly well he couldn’t forgive their sin, but he thought if he went around telling people this, they would follow him. But do these two choices really explain what we know about Jesus Christ?

Those who have examined the evidence carefully conclude, as these teachers of the Law in Jerusalem did not conclude, that the third category is correct. Jesus really is the Son of God and speaks with the authority of God and, therefore, can forgive sin. Now, it’s not only that we reach that by process of human logic. We reach it by observing also what happened in the story. After the scribes had objected to Jesus’ statement in their own hearts, Jesus, who knew their hearts and knew what they were thinking, responded by saying, “Look, what is easier to say, after all? Is it easier to say, as I have just done, ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Or is it easier to say, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”

What does Jesus mean? It is easier to tell someone their sins are forgiven because nobody really knows whether they are or not. However, when you say, “Take up your bed and walk,” that’s a different matter because you’re either able to do that or you’re not. It becomes perfectly evident whether you have that kind of authority. This is why the second statement about telling a paralytic to pick up his bed and walk is harder. When he raised the question, of course, they didn’t have any answer to that.  So when Jesus does this harder thing and heals the man, it is meant to show that he really is the divine Son of God who has the authority and power to forgive sins. And when the man obeyed Jesus by getting up and walking, Jesus demonstrated not only his ability to heal a body but his ability to heal the soul.

Study Questions
  1. Why are the scribes offended?
  2. Explain what Jesus meant when he asked if it is easier to tell someone that their sins are forgiven, or to tell them to take up their bed and walk?  Which is easier to say, and why?

Reflection: Why do some people show such contempt and hatred for Jesus today, which they do not show toward other religious figures?

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