A Strange Thing Jesus Said to a Paralyzed Man – Another Insight from Pope Benedict’s New Book

The Gospel from Monday the second week of Advent is the gospel of the paralyzed man who is lowered through the roof. It is presented to us in Advent because, among the many prophecies about the Messiah, would be that the lame would walk. But the Gospel also helps us to focus on Jesus’ central mission for us, and it is very provocatively expressed in this Gospel.

The Gospel passage contains a rather peculiar and somewhat awkward moment. Jesus looks at a paralyzed man and says to him,  As for you, your sins are forgiven (Lk 5:20). What a strange thing to say to a paralyzed man.

The Pharisees and scribes of course are all worked up for other reasons, but their reason is not ours, we know that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. Let us stay focused on the strange thing to say to a paralyzed man, your sins are forgiven you.

One of us modern folk might be tempted to tap Jesus on the shoulder and say, “Ah excuse me, Lord, this man is paralyzed, his problem is paralysis, that’s what he needs healing for.”

Of course Jesus is not blind or unintelligent, knows this. But looking at a paralyzed man he does not see the paralysis as his most serious problem. The man has a far more serious problem, his sin.

Now most of us, who live in the world, have the world’s priorities, and we do not think like this. The Lord sees something more serious than paralysis, and we think, “What can be more serious than paralysis?!”But not as man sees, does God see. For God, the most serious problem we have is our sin. But again, we don’t think like this, and even being told we should think like this, we still don’t think like this.

For most of us, influenced by the flesh, are far more devastated by the loss of our physical health, or the loss of money, or the loss of a job, or some large worldly asset, than we are by the fact that we have sin. Threaten our physical health and well-being, or one of our larger physical assets, and we’re on our knees begging God for help. Yet most human beings have far less concern for their spiritual well-being. More often than not we are not nearly so devastated by sin that can deprive us of eternal life, as we are devastated by the loss of our health or some worldly thing.

Even many of us who have some sense of the spiritual life struggle with this obtuseness, and misplaced sense of priorities. Even in our so-called spiritual life, our prayers are often dominated by concerns that God will fix our health, improve or finances, get us a job, etc. It is not wrong to pray for these things, and we should. But honestly how often do we pray to be freed of our sins, do we really and earnestly pray to grow in holiness and to be prepared to see God face-to-face? Sometimes it almost sounds as if we are asking God to make this world more comfortable and we’ll just stay here forever. This attitude is an affront to the truer Gifts God is offering.

And so it is that Jesus, looking at a paralyzed man, says to him, your sins are forgiven. In so doing he addresses the man’s most serious problem first. Only secondarily does he speak to the man’s paralysis, which he almost seems to have overlooked in comparison to the issue of sin.

We have much to learn hear about how God sees, and what really are the most crucial issues in our life.

Joseph and Mary were told to call the child “Jesus,” for he would save his people from their sins. Of this fact Pope Benedict speaks in his latest book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives:

Joseph is entrusted with a further task: “Mary will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).… On the one hand, a lofty theological task is assigned to the child, for only God can forgive sins. So this child is immediately associated with God, directly linked with God’s holy and saving power. On the other hand, though, this definition of the Messiah’s mission could appear disappointing. The prevailing expectations of salvation were primarily focused upon Israel’s concrete sufferings–on the reestablishment of the kingdom of David, on Israel’s freedom and independence, and naturally that included material prosperity for this largely impoverished people. The promise of forgiveness of sins seems both too little and too much: too much, because it trespasses upon God’s exclusive sphere; too little, because there seems to be no thought of Israel’s concrete suffering or its true need for salvation.

Pope Benedict then cites this same story of the paralytic and says,

Jesus responded [to the presence of the paralyzed man] in a way that was quite contrary to the expectation of the bearers and the sick man himself, saying: “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). This was the last thing anyone was expecting this was the last thing they were concerned about.

The Pope concludes:

Man is a relational being. And if his first, fundamental relationship is disturbed–his relationship with God–then nothing else can be truly in order. This is where the priority lies in Jesus’ message and ministry: before all else he wants to point man toward the essence of his malady.

Yes, God sees things rather differently than we do. There is much to consider the fact that Jesus says paralyzed man your sins are forgiven you.

15 Replies to “A Strange Thing Jesus Said to a Paralyzed Man – Another Insight from Pope Benedict’s New Book”

  1. ” For God, the most serious problem we have is our sin. But again, we don’t think like this, and even being told we should think like this, we still don’t think like this.”–Yep. And sometimes, even when I do think like this or, at least, think I am thinking like this, I sin anyway.–and I don’t know why.

    1. “I sin anyway.–and I don’t know why.”

      One might attribute this to the work of the devil, but the most likely reason is simple human weakness. Not everyone has the emotional/spiritual strength to be a saint. The question [the debate over which is still raging on Msgr. Pope’s previous post] is whether heaven has any room for those who are emotionally/spiritually weak, or if it is open only to the strong.

      1. “Not everyone has the emotional/spiritual strength to be a saint”

        A saint is anyone whom God accepts into Heaven, even if not Canonized by the Church. God’s mercy is everlasting, and he “answers those who call upon his name”. I think the correction to this statement that I would make is that NO ONE has the emotional/spiritual strength to be a saint. But through prayer and worthy reception of the Sacraments, ANYONE and EVERYONE can recieve the strength to draw closer to God and attain Sainthood, because we are all called to Christ in Heaven.

      2. I disagree with your statement tat “not everyone has the emotional/spiritual strength to be a saint”. We are all called to be saints. If God does not give everyone the necessary grace to attain that end, yet expects us all to be holy then He is not much of a loving God at all.

        God gives us all the grace to be a saint. That is what our destination is : sainthood. That is what salvation means – to become a saint, to be deified.

        But we do need to respond and accept that grace.

        You can look at it this way. If you are a lazy overweight person, to even start exercising is a real struggle. The first time is very, very hard. But if you get up early that first morning and start exercising then the next day will be a just a tad easier and the day after that will be the say and so forth. But each day will require of you a yes. And every day you are given enough grace to get up and go for that run. As you keep doing it, you start to build muscles and you will find that going for the run becomes part of your routine and when you don’t go for the run you start to feel off.

        It is the same thing with virtue, we practice it a little the first time, but if we are faithful we will become virtous. Everytime, enough grace is given to see us through the next hurdle until finally we find that we really prefer doing the right thing and the true thing. Our souls then have become configured to Christ. Slowly, we are becoming saints. For some this process is completed this side of eternity, for others further purgation awaits.

  2. Have Mercy on me, oh GOD. According to YOUR steadfast Love. Accoding to YOUR great compassion, blot out my many transgression. Cleanse me of my iniquities. Cleanse me of my sin. Amen.

  3. I love God but since I have killed no one nor stole large quantities of money an like to give to charity and the Church I tend to think of my sins as minimal which only fools me. Urey hard not to sin but at the time it seem just and proper in doing it. Again, I only fool myself for God knows my heart and yet loves this self destructive child of His. Forgive me Lord Jesus. I need you far more than you need me. You love me more than I love you as evidenced by my sinful life. Forgive me Lord Jesus.

    1. Knowing how awful we are is half the battle because that is the springboard for repentance.

  4. This man was literally brought to Jesus. Did he ask for this? Perhaps his sins were forgiven based upon the love of those who brought him to Him. Maybe this is about those who pray and try to bring others to Christ. Encoragement for us all!

  5. @Thomas Gill-I always considered that the case too. The prayers of the community invokeing the grace on behalf of the one who was unable to put himself in the presence of the lord. As for his sins ,If we can think, we can sin (jealousy,contempt , ungratefulness, etc).

  6. Good perception on the scripture., and it made me stop and think. Jesus read the heart of the man and wanted the man to understand, his soul was more important than his physical limitations. Jesus was also revealing his divine nature, to forgive sins. This helps us proirtize what is really important in our lives.

    This is pure speculation…I wonder if the man was blaming someone for his medical problems, and if that was the source of his sins? Maybe he had extreme jealosy for those who could walk?

  7. anybody know who did the painting that is attached to the article?

    thanks in advance,


  8. ” And if his first, fundamental relationship is disturbed–his relationship with God–then nothing else can be truly in order.” This spoke so profoundly to me. In the last 2 years, I have worked to establish better order in my life, & prayed that my spiritual life becomes more orderly as my life in the material world does so.

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