#10: Friday, 15 March, 2019.
Friday, 15 March Luke 5:12-26
Written by Dr Graham Leo. ©2019.
Luke has not written a random history of Jesus’ ministry. In today’s reading, there are two healings. Each of them is quite different, in the way that Jesus manages them.
In the first, a leper approaches Jesus with a desperate request for healing. Luke says the man begged Jesus to heal him. He wonders if Jesus is willing, and Jesus declares both his willingness and his ability to heal.
He then tells the man to show the priest that he is healed, and to offer the appropriate sacrifices. These are quite complex. You can read about them in Leviticus 14:1-32. These rituals involve the offering of sacrifices for sin; that is to say, for the forgiveness of sin. They are a religious duty, not just rules about community health.
In the second incident, a man is brought by his friends to Jesus. We know nothing about the sick man’s willingness to ask Jesus for healing. We just know that his friends were passionate and willing to do anything to gain Jesus’ attention. Jesus heals the man, but only after he has declared his sins forgiven.
Luke gives a curious reason for Jesus forgiving the man’s sins. If it were to be given as an answer in a theology exam for what is needed for God to forgive sins, it would be marked wrong. The reason Luke gives is this: “When Jesus saw their (i.e. the friends’) faith…”.
God forgives a person’s sins because of someone else’s faith?!? Try telling that to someone handing you out a tract outlining the Four Spiritual Laws, or preaching a Gospel sermon on what you need to do to be saved. Doesn't each individual person need their own faith in order to be saved?
What on earth is Luke doing, playing with our minds like this?
He had plenty of examples to draw on. We know that, because he told us he had researched extensively. Yet, out of all the healing stories he could have included, and placed adjacent to each other in his narrative, he chose these. And he used these words to describe them.
We ought to know enough about the Holy Spirit and about Luke to know that these things are not accidental. Let’s try to dig deeper.
I don't know if what I am about to tell you is the right reason for Luke doing this. I'm not a professional theologian. I'm just a very ordinary Christian who tries to read scripture as it is written, and understand it. But reading scripture means you read all of it, even these bits that don't seem to make much sense – or that you don't like.
We have here, two people being healed. But that’s just the surface story. It is the necessary plot to enable the real theme, the main idea behind the story, to emerge. More important than mere healing (as wonderful as each one is), we have two people whose sins are forgiven.
It’s good to be healed when you're sick. Oh, yes, that would be wonderful! But it is better to know that you have entered the kingdom of heaven.
Israel was called to be a holy nation, a people that would flee from all appearance and practice of sin.
In the Old Testament, if you were a leper, you were not allowed to be a part of the community of Israel. You were cut off from the nation. You were an outsider. To be allowed back in, it was not enough just to be cured of your leprosy, you had to perform the ritual sacrifices for the cleansing of sin. You could not do this on your own; you had to have the mediation of the priest.
In the case of the paralytic man, Jesus forgives his sin, because of the faith of his friends. To say that another way, his friends mediated the path to wholeness of both body and soul or spirit by their faith in Jesus. This time, the priesthood was no longer necessary. Jesus was in the business of forming a new Israel, where the priesthood of all believers would become a reality. (Compare 1 Peter 2:9 and Exodus 19:6.)
This is a seriously major initiative. No wonder the Pharisees were muttering.
In these two stories, Luke contrasts the two covenants of old and new. Please note carefully: it is not that the old is bad and the new better. (Remember that for tomorrow’s reading!) It is just that in Jesus’ new way of doing things, he delegates his authority widely amongst his church.
I confess that I don't know all that this means, in the context of these two stories. But I'm certain that Luke is telling us something very important about becoming members of God’s kingdom, by having our sins forgiven, not just about two quite wonderful healings. If we focus on the healings, we might miss the real story behind what is just the mere plot.
Jesus is our wonderful Lord and Saviour, not because he makes our lives more comfortable, but because he repairs the problem of broken relationship between us and God.
Prayer: My Father, please forgive me for my sins. I am sorry for my many failures and frequent failings. Because of Jesus, because of his perfect sacrifice, please forgive me and grant me the right to eat of the Table of Delight in your heavenly presence.
Lord Jesus Christ, I also mention before you my friends or family who do not know you. This reading has given me courage to ask you to intercede for them before the Father. Forgive their sins, and make them whole, please. Amen.