Commentary on Matthew 9:1-8
After the cure of the two demoniacs (yesterday’s Gospel) Jesus and his disciples now re-cross the lake and come into his own town. This refers not to Nazareth but to Capernaum, which is the centre out of which he operates in Galilee.
As usual with Matthew, he just gives the bare bones of a story which is told in a much more interesting way by Mark. Matthew concentrates on what Jesus says and does. He leaves out the details.
Some people brought a paralysed man lying on a mat to Jesus. Moved by their faith in him, Jesus says to the man, “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven.” In Mark’s version the degree of the man’s faith is indicated by him being carried up on to the roof of the house by some friends and being let down through the roof at the feet of Jesus. Matthew says nothing about this.
The man was probably not expecting to hear Jesus mention his sins. As far as he was concerned, that was not the reason he had come to Jesus. Some scribes nearby were surprised too and even shocked. “The man is speaking blasphemously,” they thought.
Fully aware of what they were thinking, Jesus asked them: “Which is less trouble to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’.” Obviously, it is much easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” How can you know if it has taken place? But Jesus goes on: “To help you realise that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then spoke to the paralysed man – “Stand up! Roll up your mat, and go home.”
And the man did just that: he rolled up his mat and walked out of the house to his home.
The people around were awestruck and praised God for giving such authority to human beings. They did not yet fully recognise the identity of Jesus but they did realise that God was acting before their very eyes. The scribes for their part were reduced to silence. Matthew’s use of the word ‘men’ seems to point to the power of Jesus being passed on to his followers – his power to heal and to forgive.
To understand this story we need to be aware of the close links that the people of the time saw between sickness and sin. Sickness, especially a chronic sickness, was often seen as a punishment for sin, either the sin of the person himself or of a parent. We remember, in John’s gospel (chapter 9), how the people asked Jesus if the man was born blind because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. Similarly, after Jesus had healed a man crippled for 38 years, he told him not so sin again, for fear something worse might befall him (John 5:14).
In telling the paralysed man that his sins were forgiven Jesus was going to the root of his problem. We can probably say that sin in some form or other is at the root of all our problems. Jesus had been challenged for telling the man his sins were forgiven. To prove that he had the power to do this, he cured the man’s paralysis, which, in the minds of the onlookers, was the result of his sin. If there was no more paralysis, which was caused by sin, then the sin had been taken away too.
Nowadays, we do not see something like paralysis or a physical handicap as a punishment from God. We do not believe that God works like that. On the other hand it is likely that many health problems which we have can be linked with a disharmony in our lives arising from a conflict between what we are truly meant to be and what we tend to be. We refer to some sicknesses as ‘dis-eases’. They are the result of harmful stress when we are out of harmony with ourselves, with other people and with our environment. In that sense, we can see a clear link between sin and sickness.
Perhaps if we looked at our own lives we might see that some of our physical and mental ailments are due to a lack of harmony between God and others and our surroundings. Let’s think about that today.