If you compare the Gospels you will find some differences in emphasis and even in the order of events. The Gospels were written to record important truths and evidences of Christ’s identity as the Messiah and as God the Son. Certain details are recalled in some Gospel accounts yet not others. Of course the Gospels are not detailed biographies. It is possible that St Matthew (in the reading today) was recording a well-known story, the details of which were well known. The Apostle does, however, offer his own insights on the narrative. The healing of the paralysed man is reported also in St Mark’s Gospel (chapter 2) and St Luke’s (chapter 5). From them we learn the extra details that there were a lot of people gathered and in order to take the man to Christ, his friends had to carry him to the top of the roof and then after removing the tiles, they lowered him in. St Matthew retold only the main elements of the story. These concern the faith of the people involved, the forgiveness and the healing.
To experience the power of God in our lives we need faith. Without a degree of faith we pray (if we pray at all) weakly and not expecting any answer. Maybe the early Church saw so many miracles and healings because their faith was in the expectation of the miraculous intervention of God in human affairs. However, there are miracles happening daily in the life of the Church today, yet not everywhere.
Now it is not clear who had the faith in the case of this group of friends, was it the man who was healed or the people who brought him to Christ? Perhaps they all did. I suspect the man himself had doubts, otherwise Christ would not have felt the need to tell him to take heart, although this may have been the effects of his own understanding of his sins. Certainly his friends were determined. Although there was an obstacle in getting him to Christ, they dealt with it; even though it meant dismantling part of the roof. Their actions in bringing the man to Christ showed faith. In much the same way, perseverance in prayer and works are essential to the Christian life for us all. Belief can be a mere intellectual exercise unless supported by actions. When we act on belief it shows faith, faith also in the sense that we trust something or someone. It is also true that prayer for others can bring results despite their own lack of faith. In this case carrying the man to Christ was physical as well, but it was also an act of faithful prayer and love. It shows what prayer can achieve. So to an extent whose faith is not important in this story. The group of friends supported each other and the sick man, so we also ought to support each other.
The next thing that Christ did for the man seems to many rather odd. Christ announced that the man’s sins were forgiven. There is no shadow of a doubt here. This man was forgiven his sins. Christ was not promising or praying for forgiveness of the man’s sins, He simply declared it as a fact. Clearly there was a need to forgive but also here it allowed Christ to demonstrate that it was within his power to forgive.
God has the power to forgive sin. In claiming the power Christ is accused of blasphemy. He puts Himself on a level with God. Of course, as God Incarnate Christ can do that, but viewed as a mere man it would be a serious charge and not unreasonable. Christ then asks which is easier to do, forgive sin or to say: get up and walk. Christ’s healing actions back up his claimed authority. In the words of the Gospel he explains; - “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then the instruction is given to do just that, and the man stands. The healing, therefore, demonstrates forgiveness as well as God’s power over illness thereby revealing Christ’s divinity.
Not every illness, of course, is related to a specific sin or even sins in general. Some may well be, but others not. We have to reckon with both the mystery of iniquity and the irrationality, and indeed injustice of much human suffering. We cannot expect to know how these things work out in God’s plan, even within our own lifetime. In this case, Christ was faced with someone who was labouring under the influence of some sin. Sin creates a barrier to approaching God. We need to deal with this; which is why the Church has been given the power from God to declare forgiveness. Christ saw the need for forgiveness and being the Good Shepherd, He had God’s full knowledge of both the person and the issue. Forgiveness was both the grace of God and the means to acquire more grace.
There is one other aspect of this story which comes out very strongly in St Matthew’s Gospel. He places this incident immediately after the casting out of the demons of the possessed into a herd of swine. You will recall, this was last Sunday’s Gospel reading. Faced with the awesome power of God shown in the exorcism of the demoniacs, the people of that area asked Christ to leave. They were frightened at what had happened. Christ did not stay in that place. Confronted with people who did not receive Him, he left. Today as well, if people do not want Christ, he will leave them alone; although He never stops loving them. I can sympathise with people who are anxious about the power of God. It is frightening if you are not used to it or it is too personally challenging. In the reading today, however, the people reacted with praise. We are told “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.” That puts it in a nutshell. Faced with the power of God we can either keep Him distant or we can respond with praise and worship. One group reacted by having Christ leave yet another responded with praise. The choice was theirs, as it is ours.
The challenges from the Gospel today, therefore, are these:-
We need to have faith in Christ who can do much when we allow Him to do so.
We need to follow the example of the friends of the paralysed man and support each other.
Finally, faced with the reality of God, we can either run away or we can worship. The invitation is there to worship but Christ will not force Himself on us. God is awesome in the immensity of His greatness. How we respond to God is up to us.
To God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, be praise and glory, now and ever and to the ages of ages.