The healing of the paralytic, which is the text of today, introduces a series of four controversy stories. The religious authorities, the Pharisees and scribes, are introduced for the first time in the Gospel of Luke. The general resistance Jesus met in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry now becomes much more focused, and a specific charge is considered: blasphemy. The story weaves together, even more closely than earlier scenes, the twin themes of the power of Jesus: the power of his words and his power to heal. For the first time, faith and forgiveness of sins are introduced.
Luke has very likely taken this story from Mark 2:1-12. Yet, he makes significant changes in his own narration which bring out the points that he wants to make. These changes are obvious in his introduction and in his conclusion. Unlike in Mark, where the crowd presses around Jesus, in Luke, it is the Pharisees and teachers of the law who are around Jesus. At this stage, it is not clear whether they are there to investigate Jesus or to listen to his teaching. The faith of the men carrying the paralytic is seen in their determination to not let the crowd be an obstacle to his encountering Jesus. Since Luke has spoken of Jesus’ power to heal, in the introductory verse, it would seem that Jesus would heal the man instantly. However, instead of healing, Jesus pronounces a forgiveness of the man’s sins. This pronouncement leads to an objection on the part of the scribes and Pharisees. They accuse Jesus of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. Jesus rises to the challenge by demonstrating, through the healing of the paralytic, that he did indeed have the authority to forgive sins. In Luke, both the paralytic and the crowds glorify or praise God.
Many significant points are made by this story. The first is that Jesus, who forgives, is also who heals. Faith is shown here not so much as a verbal proclamation or an intellectual assent to a truth, but in action. The action is both confident and determined. It believes and perseveres. Jesus is shown here, not only as the one who frees us from an ailment, but the one who effects a total healing with his word of healing. It is wholeness that is at the root of what Jesus came to do.
There are times in our lives when we give up too easily. We lack perseverance when we do not get what we pray or ask for. Sometimes this lack of perseverance leads to frustration and despair. We lose faith, we stop believing, we become negative and depressed. We are called through this pronouncement story to continue to believe, even in our darkest hour. We are called upon to persevere, even at those times when the road is only uphill. We are called upon to never give up, to never give in.