Lord heal me!
It is a common cry…heal me of poverty, heal me of disease, heal me of sickness. Help me Lord – take away my pain and my loneliness; bring me joy; bring me love. Lord help me get the new house, the new car, the new job…Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord…
I have prayed every one of these prayers. I have sought healing in every form with all of my strength but there is one form of healing that has eluded me in the depth of my prayers…forgiveness; the form that falls to the bottom of the list or is offered up first merely out of a false impoverishment like a dove on the alter while I keep the pure lamb to myself.
Consider the following from the Gospel according to Saint Mark, chapter 2 verses 1-12:
“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
We lift up this story as an example of extreme faith; faith without bounds…faith that tears the roof off of buildings that we and our friends might be healed. How often have we torn the roof off of the barriers to Christ in our life to seek some form of physical healing? Some form of temporal, worldly healing or assistance?
I have done it…I have wept and screamed for all kinds of healing.
Christ’s response is brilliant here and it was the eminent scholar Joseph Ratzinger that showed me the depth of these verses here in his latest book on the life of Jesus.
In response to this bold request for healing Christ speaks and says:
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
How terribly, terribly disappointing.
The paralyzed man did not come for forgiveness. His friends did not tear the roof off for forgiveness. What is that? Some intangible, philosophical statement that is worthless to the one who cannot walk…at least that is what it feels like.
Not only a huge let down but an insult to the priests present. God forgives – no one else, not now, not ever.
So what we have is a scene of expectant people who were seeking miracles and got nothing but words. Word.
Yet here is the thing…the real miracle; the only true miracle, is the forgiveness of sins. Nothing else in our lives or in the world can be fixed unless this one foundational miracle happens first. Christ knows this. This is the only reason he came…to forgive. All healing stems first from the forgiveness of Christ and the acceptance of that forgiveness.
How often has Christ forgiven me only to have me miss it completely as I pray for more money or health or reprieve from my own self, my addictions and the pain of a thousand different conditions? Forgiveness missed. Forgiveness thrown back as useless in comparison to what the world demands of and through me.
Christ knows these things.
In the crowd he knows there is anger and disappointment.
“Which is easier” Christ asks, to forgive sins or to heal a paralytic? The answer is clear – to forgive sins…and to show that this is the most important he casually tells the man to get up and walk…it is almost an afterthought…because in the grand scheme of things our brokenness, our need for healing is rooted in something far deeper and more significant than a severed spinal cord, a small house, a lack of friends, depression, etc. it is rooted in the poison that is the cause of all of this and more…sin…the black and bleak turning away from God. The human condition.
At the end of the episode we are left with a man healed of paralysis and walking home while an amazed crowd looks on and one senses that the point was missed entirely and the forgiveness of his sins was lost in the very limited sight of a man walking…walking to his grave.
Praise and amazement break out not at the forgiveness of the man’s sin…it breaks out when he gets up and walks…
I have praised God in the midst of good fortune, physical healing, and reprieve from pain. I have cried tears of joy in response to these things. My response to the miracle of forgiveness he has given me has been a cold and perfunctory thing in comparison.
It is time to get our priorities in order and recognize that our lives and the pain that comes with them pale in comparison to the need for forgiveness…more still by the fact that it has been given…the Word has been spoken and it is this that we must celebrate and embrace because it is eternal.