Reflections on Mark 2:5-10; Luke 5:17-24
Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” The scribes and Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”
There are no guarantees.
There were other paralytics in the house that day. Not of body – but of soul. They, too, experienced the “power of the Lord” that rested on Jesus.
They heard Him preach with more wisdom than King Solomon; with more authority than Moses; more power than Elijah; more righteousness than Noah, Daniel, and Job; and with more unction than the greatest prophets the world has ever known from Enoch to John the Baptist, Abel to Zechariah.
But it made no impact whatsoever. It’s exactly, Jesus said, what Isaiah foretold:
“You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull…”
Matthew 13:14-15 (Isaiah 6:9-10)
There are no guarantees.
Here, in the house, these men make their first appearance in Mark and Luke. They are not friends. Soon enough, they will set their sights on trying to destroy Him. 1 But for now, they sit there unaware of one simple fact.
They’re no different than the man on the mat.
And, who knows, maybe the paralytic is like them too. Maybe his ears are deaf, his eyes equally blind, and his heart as calloused as theirs. But for some reason, Jesus doesn’t care about that. He’s not interested in whether he has faith or not. He sees all the faith He needs to see in the hearts of the four men on the roof.
As far as He’s concerned, if this man on the mat is their friend, then He is too. And He says it, calling him “Friend!” in front of everybody.
“Friend, your sins are forgiven!”
It’s strange at first. He doesn’t speak healing to his body, but his soul. It’s almost like He was speaking to all the paralytics in the house. If they, even the educated, rich, Law-abiding, God-fearing scribes and Pharisees, would let these same words sink deep into their soul, they too would have been given the gift of God.
They would’ve felt the same power flood their souls.
But no, they’re hardened to it. At once, in the quiet of their hearts, they oppose Him. They don’t say it aloud, but they’re convinced He has just blasphemed. And Jesus knows it. He knows exactly what they’re thinking and confronts them with it by asking, “Why are you reasoning these things in your hearts?”
They don’t answer. He presses in deeper – making it worse for them.
“The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
While the man on the mat – still paralyzed in body but no longer in soul -- has all he ever wanted and dreamed.
He has a new friend.
* * *
In the early evening, Walt sent a text to my phone. It said simply, “Just sent you an email.” I opened it and found he’d written me a letter.
I got to the hospital after ten. I’d asked Mom and my sister Ellie to come at noon. I told them I wanted time with Dad alone. They were fine with it.
First thing out of his mouth, “Where are Ellie and your mom?”
I tell him, “They’re coming later, Dad. Just you and me for a while.”
He figured it out. “So this is it, huh? Say what you’ve got to say before your old man drops dead? Is that it? Well, get it over with, Son. Do what you gotta do.” Almost mad, he turns his head to the window and tries to shut me out.
I push his leg over and sit on the bed next to him.
“Remember when Zane was sick, Dad? Remember when you came to the hospital to see him? I saw something in you I’d never seen before. You loved Zane. I mean, really loved him. You thought he was going to die and you were upset. We talked about it, remember, in the waiting room? Well, in the same way, that’s how I feel about you, Dad. I don’t want you to die.”
He’s staring blankly now.
“I guess if I were really honest, I’d tell you I was a little jealous. I don’t think you ever loved me like that. Or Ellie. Or Mom. At least, I never saw it.
“I was so mad at you growing up. I couldn’t wait till I graduated high school to get out of the house. I swore I’d never come back. You said you’d pay for college but I didn’t want it, remember that? I did it myself. Every penny. Working nights and weekends. Anything, just to be done with you.
“But not Mom. I’d visit when you weren’t around. And she saw it. She saw the anger and hatred in me. It was eating me alive and I didn’t care because it wasn’t my fault – that’s what I told myself. It was you. I always blamed you.”
He has no reaction at all.
“But all that changed for me. I told you that in the waiting room.”
I doubt he’s even listening.
“A friend of mine invited me to hear this preacher. To this day, I don’t know how it happened, but sitting there listening to him, I realized I was wrong. I’d been blaming you all this time when I should’ve blamed myself. I needed to own the fact that I was mean and hateful because of me. My choice. Not yours.
“That night, the preacher told us to own our own sin and tell God we were sorry. Sorry for our sins – for my sins. He told us how to pray and ask Jesus Christ to come into our life. And I did. I asked Him to forgive me and change my heart.”
By this time, his eyes close. Like he’s completely done with me.
“I still wanted nothing to do with you. Soon after, I went to church and met Carol. She’s the one that forced the issue. Did you know, Dad, she wouldn’t marry me until I got myself right with you? She said, ‘Not until you love him from the heart – really love him -- whether he ever loves you back or not.’”
If you can believe this, he actually opens his eyes and looks at me.
“And that’s been my choice ever since. So when I say, ‘I love you, Dad’, I mean it. When I say, ‘I don’t want you to die,’ I mean it. And more than anything, I don’t care what you think of me. I care about Ellie and Mom. Do you feel anything for them, Dad? Like you do Zane? If you do, they need to know soon.”
Right then, I see him – that man I saw in the waiting room years ago.
“And so does God.”
The moment I say “God”, he turns his eyes away.
“You’ve never given Him the time of day. Here you are, about to meet your Maker, and you turn away even at the mention of His name. But Dad, I’m going to be really selfish here. When I die and go to heaven, I want you there. Do you hear me? That means you’ve got to act like a man and own the wrong in your heart. Why is that hard to do? I need you to get right Him, Dad.”
He looks back at me. Like he hears me.
I lose it. I didn’t mean to, but I did. I reach for a tissue on his side table and try to hold it in but I can’t. Next thing I know, I feel his hand coming around my neck and bringing me close – against his chest. He holds me there. He lets me cry until I can’t cry anymore. I pull away and tell him I’m sorry. I look at him. I can’t believe it.
He’s got tears in his eyes.
“Tell me what I need to do, Son,” he says.
So, I did. I tell him exactly how I prayed all those years ago. He nods, and asks me to help him pray it too.
Almost naturally, he grabs my hand and holds it. I look at him and I see far more than I ever saw in that waiting room. For the first time, we are what we were meant to be -- father and son. And more.
We are friends.
1 Mark 3:4-6