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Matthew 9:1-8 tells the story of a paralysed man, brought by his friends to Jesus. In verse 2, Jesus says to him, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” In most cases, Jesus heals people when they are brought to him. It seems to be almost an instinctive response – to reach out, touch and heal.
Why then does Jesus here not heal the man, but rather forgive him his sins?
Perhaps, for this man, the crux of his difficulty in life was not his paralysis, so much as his grappling with some aspect of sin or unforgiveness. It seems that Jesus puts his finger on the heart of this man’s concern. Truly, we don’t know, because we are told so little about the man’s backstory.
The root causes of our issues are not always on the surface. It is not always the obvious or what you can see that is ‘the issue’ that we need to deal with. Often, we need to go behind the issue to see what may be hidden, and to go deep into the root of the issue. A surface healing may do nothing more than to perpetuate the hiding what of what is behind or beneath, of that which is most in need of God’s love. Part of the Christian journey is to face the darkness of sin and suffering – the dark night of the soul. It is often in this dark place that God is able to work for our good.
In the Matthew 9 story, while it may appear that Jesus is ignoring the man’s suffering, he is, in fact, going straight to the heart of it. He actually says, ‘Take heart“. Or in other translations, ‘Be of courage’ (the word courage coming from the old French and Latin for heart – cor). Jesus goes to the man’s heart, rather than to the external. He goes behind the paralysis, and goes deep into his heart. And in response to this insight, Jesus proclaims his sins forgiven.
The man did not come for forgiveness, did not ask for forgiveness, did not confess his sins, did not show remorse for anything. It is not clear that he had any faith at all of his own. Thus, the forgiveness that Jesus proclaims is entirely the work of God – not the work of faith. God in Christ chooses to forgive this man’s sins and in so doing brings about an inner healing. He is made right with God, he is set free from guilt, he is made whole within himself.
By the time we get to verse 6, where Jesus says to the man, “Get up, take your mat and go home”, he has already been healed. Jesus does not say, “You are healed of your paralysis”. He simply says, “get up”, and the man gets up. He has already been healed! His paralysis seems to have been cured back in verse 2, as an outworking of the inner healing that Jesus had worked in his heart.
If there is a general principle that we can draw from this encounter, it is that God invites us, when we are suffering and struggling with life, to go behind the suffering and to go deep into the suffering, into the heart. There is healing in this. God meets us there in the darkness. We become receptive to God’s healing work, God’s forgiveness, God’s peace-giving.
Featured image from here.