“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
This is Jesus, bent over, talking to a young man lying on a stretcher, the stretcher carried by his friends, sweating, and shifting their grips from hand to hand as they come up alongside the Son of Man. And they haven’t even said anything yet, but He sees their faith and says to this guy, “Your sins are forgiven.”
This is a one-sided conversation that they’ve entered, but it seems to them like it’s one that’s been going on for some time—maybe all time—and while they don’t want to interrupt there is, nevertheless, the fact that this man is standing right in front of them, the man who can heal at a glance, a once-in-a-lifetime chance for them and their friend, who, by the way, hasn’t said a word, just looks, his hand curled like a claw, his arms like brown sticks, his fingers splayed like roots, chin covered in stubble, breath coming hard—no words—his eyes burning deep like topaz in the last light of the day.
And we, looking on, shift a bit and smile at nothing in particular. Sins! Not a word we’ve heard or used in quite a while, and truth be told, not something we can actually relate to, come to think of it.
“Have you ever sought God’s forgiveness?” asks the reporter. The candidate stops, puzzled. “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness,” he says. “I don’t bring God into that picture . . . When I go to church and I have my little wine and my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness.” He pauses, shrugs his shoulders. “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honorable person.”
Actually, we’d be more comfortable if the conversation revolved around rights and obligations. We have respect for privacy; we believe everyone has the right to their own opinion and who are we to say who has committed a sin or not. That’s their business and not something which can really — or should really — be talked about, seeing as nobody has the right to tell me or anybody else, what I should or should not be doing. I pay my taxes, I work hard, I try to help others out where I can, but in the end it’s really my life and no one else’s and I really don’t — I mean, you know — you don’t have a right to tell me what to do, you know?
This moment. This paralyzed man, his friends breathless, waiting, the crowd at our backs, the sun slanting into our eyes, a dry, coppery taste in our mouths. Jesus smiles and straightens. “I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “Why do you think such evil? What’s easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk?’”
We don’t know what to say, they’re just words, anyone could say them but that doesn’t prove a thing. I mean, I could say that—not that I would—but if I wanted to I could say that, but what good would that do anyway? Nobody talks like that! Who talks like that, anyway?
Jesus turns. “Stand up,” he says to the guy on the stretcher. “Go home.”
And I do. I swing my legs down, set my feet on the ground and stand up, a little shaky at first, but I’m up.
“Thank you,” I croak. I look down. My fingers ball up and I rub my arm. My friends stand paralyzed.
“Thank you,” I say, and the people near me fall back.
“Thank you,” — the words are stronger now — and I walk.
Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communications at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, for 28 years. He is now adjunct professor in ethics and philosophy at Trinity Washington University, D.C., and adjunct professor in business communication at Stevenson University, Maryland. This essay originally appeared on StillAdventist.org. It is reprinted here with permission. More of Casey’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods.
Image Credit: Pawel Nolbert / Unsplash.com
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