Monday, Second Week of Advent
Today’s Gospel is a familiar story. We’ve probably read it and heard it dozens of times. Jesus is teaching to a packed house when four men come carrying their paralyzed friend on a litter because they have heard about Jesus and his power to heal. They can’t get in because there are so many people jammed into the place, so they take to the rooftop, create an alternate entry, and lower their friend down.
All of this is unusual if we think about it. It is certainly not our ordinary experience to see religious teachers packing out a venue. We don’t often see people scampering about in search of miracles. We don’t see people going to such extraordinary lengths to gain access. But all of this pales in comparison to what happens next.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”
Everybody in the place gasped, “What?” The four friends, the man on the mat, the collected Pharisees and teachers. Everyone was in disbelief at the words Jesus had just spoken. The man and his friends, presumably, thought that their efforts were for naught. They didn’t just cut a hole through the roof for that; they were looking for physical healing. The Pharisees and teachers weren’t even particularly interested in seeing a miracle; they were there for a good theological discussion.
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.”
This is hidden in Isaiah’s prophecy in today’s first reading. “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” Isaiah goes on to describe the effects of this vindication. He describes it in earthly terms: healing, agricultural abundance, peace, joy.
It is easy for us to get focused on the effects. That is what most in the first century were longing for. A throwing off of Rome, a return to a Davidic kingdom with peace and security for Israel. Abundance and prosperity.
Those are all fine things, but they are secondary. Jesus alone in the Gospel scene recognizes that fact. “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”
Of course being a paralytic isn’t much fun. It’s humiliating to have to rely on others for your every need. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that much, however. What does matter is that we have all sinned and been separated from God. We have become unclean and therefore cannot be admitted before one who is absolute purity. We have rebelled and therefore cannot be accepted by the one to whom we owe absolute obedience.
Jesus sees beyond our limited and often trifling desires. “As for you, your sins are forgiven.” Therefore, you are set in right relationship with God the Father. You are clean once again. You can be admitted before the Holy One.
Without that, nothing else really matters. But since they doubted the spiritual healing that had just taken place, Jesus pronounces the trivial as well. “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”