In the gospel of Mark there is a story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. Per usual, he uses that moment as a teaching point for both the teachers of the law that were there and the local people. The story ends with this:
“Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say t the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. – Mark 2:8b-12a (NIV)
Now, the common understanding of this passage is this: Jesus has the authority to forgive sins because he is also God and he needed to prove that to the people in attendance, so he healed the paralyzed man to show his authority. Indeed, if you only read biblical text as the factual and inerrant word of God then this seems to be about the only interpretation you can surmise. However, if you choose to look at the text as more true than simple facts, having more depth than a historical recording; then the text will contain so much more beauty and profound veracity.
Just to be clear, I believe that the Bible was written by real people and at real times. Thus, it should always be read in the context of when it was written, who it was written to, and what their motives might have been. I also believe that the writers were passing on stories of their own and others experiences of the divine, of which it may not have been possible or helpful to explain in basic facts. To describe the indescribable you need metaphor, pictures, symbols, and many other sorts of literary devices to aid you.
Alright, back to the story.
In the context of this story, who would the people have usually had around telling them that their sins were or were not forgiven? The religious leaders. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and priests. These authorities would have told them whether or not they performed their sacrifices correctly, if they offered enough, if they truly were forgiven.
It is this authority that Jesus is directly calling out.
These religious leaders weren’t actually caring for the people, they simply walked around flexing their religious muscle, creating a culture of shame and despair for many of the people who felt they could not live up to the high standards of the Jewish Law.
So, in this story Jesus asks emphatically, “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?'” Basically, he is calling them out. He is saying, “You leaders walk around all day telling people whether or not their sins are forgiven but do you ever actually help anyone?”
It is easy to say words to someone. And yes, I believe words are powerful. Yes, telling someone they are forgiven is meaningful. But to tell them they are forgiven through action is on a different level. Jesus is challenging the people to both tell others they are forgiven and act as though they are forgiven. Spend time with them, talk with them, heal them, and through these actions they will know the truth; that they are forgiven.
Jesus ends also with these words, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”
The “Son of Man” refers to all of us. We are all sons or daughters of man and woman. Jesus is telling these people that you have the ability to forgive others of their sins, to let them know that prior actions or thoughts do not define them today.
You can look at his healing miracle as a fact or as a metaphor for the healing power of forgiveness. When you choose to humble yourself, offer forgiveness, and then live that out through your actions then indeed miracles will happen.
Wounds that have existed for years will be healed.
What was broken will be put back together.
Jesus came in his full humanity to lead us into ours.
He came to show that this world, this reality that we exist in is not separate from God but is the blessed place of the concurrence of the human and the divine.
Indeed it is easy to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” and do nothing but difficult to deliver forgiveness through action. Yet, it is through this action that true healing occurs.