Jesus and the Paralytic

jesus-and-paralyticWhy did the paralyzed man want to come to Jesus? This account is in each of the synoptic Gospels (Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12, Lk 5:17-26). It is a famous story. Many people assume the man came simply to be healed. This is what I believed, too. I remember preaching it this way in teen Sunday School, years ago. But, I was never very comfortable with this interpretation. Like Cinderella’s glass slipper on the ugly step-sister, it really didn’t fit.

I am working through the Gospel of Luke for our family devotions, and I came across this passage again last night. As I read it, the thought occurred to me. The man didn’t come to be healed per se – he came because he wanted to hear the Good News from the Messiah.

Matthew does not cover the passage in great detail, but Mark and Luke do. Here is the first portion of the passage:

Mark 2:1-5

Luke 5:17-20

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them.

And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

And when he saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Notice what Jesus is doing in Capernaum. He “is teaching.” He is “preaching the word to them.” The article is important. Jesus didn’t preach “a word,” He preached “the word” (τὸν λόγον).

Jesus is preaching the word or message of the Good News of the coming Messianic Kingdom, and commanding people to repent and believe (cf. Mk 1:14-15 ). He is preaching about liberation from spiritual bondage, and recovery of sight to the spiritually blind through repentance and faith in Himself (cf. Lk 4:16-21; Isa 61:1-2). The immediate context in both Mark and Luke’s account is the coming Messianic Kingdom. In Luke, Jesus explicitly identified Himself as the agent who will accomplish this, in God’s stead.

If this is what Jesus is doing (and it is), and if this is the focus of both Gospel accounts (and it is), then perhaps we ought to re-consider why the paralytic asked his friends to bring him to see Christ.

Here are some observations:

  • There is no room to hear Jesus teach – not even at the door. Luke tells us why; “there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.” The focus is on the teaching, not the miracles.
  • People often assume the paralytic wanted to be near Jesus so he could be healed. Why not assume the man simply wanted to hear Jesus preach “the word?”
  • Jesus sees the corporate faith of all five men (τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν), and tells the paralyzed fellow, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” Mark records something a bit more personal (“Son”), which is likely an addition from Peter, who was there.
  • If the man simply came to be healed, then (1) what, exactly, was the content of the man’s faith, and (2) what about this faith warranted forgiveness of his sins?

Only Luke observes that “the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” This doesn’t mean the man wasn’t interested in healing, of course. But, it should give us a hint that he doesn’t see Jesus as simply a miracle-man. It is safe to assume the man had two motivations:

  1. He wanted to hear the Good News of the coming Messianic Kingdom, and
  2. He believed Jesus was the Messiah, and was thus capable of healing him, if He chose to do so

Therefore:

  1. Jesus saw the man’s faith, and pronounced his sins forgiven on that basis
  2. This suggests the man believed Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus recognized his desperate struggle to come hear the message of the Messianic Kingdom

The entire focus of the rest of this story is on the charge of blasphemy against Christ, something which will become the key charge against Him throughout His ministry and at His trial. The focus was never on the healing. The healing was incidental, done to prove a point.

I think the man came for the message, not the healing.

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