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Lent Reflections @ CEC: Questions of Jesus

“Lent is a time for discipline, for confession, for honesty, not because God is mean or fault-finding or finger-pointing but because he wants us to know the joy of being cleaned out, ready for all the good things he now has in store.”

NT Wright

Scripture: Luke 5:17-25 One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!” Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!” ------------------------------------- I often laugh as I read the Gospels. Sometimes it’s because Jesus uses humor to make a point. More often it’s because he is outmaneuvering people around him who can’t seem to see or think clearly. One example comes late in his ministry. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, and the miracle has gone viral. Jewish leaders fear their authority is at risk because of this upstart rabbi. Someone proposes, “I know—let’s kill Lazarus.” Really? Maybe Jesus won’t find out and Lazarus will stay dead this time?

The New Testament scholar Ken Bailey reminds us of the obvious: “Jesus—not Paul—is the foremost mind of the New Testament.” I think of this as I read this account. Jesus acts in unexpected ways, confounds his critics, and raises questions that are relevant to us today. Imagine the scene. Jesus draws a crowd who come to see the teacher and healer. Religious scholars come, too—vigilant about the threat Jesus represents to the existing religious system. A group arrives carrying a friend who needs healing, but can’t push through the crowd. They are men of action. Inspiration strikes. “We can go through the roof (and fix it later).” This strategy lands their friend right where they want him: in front of Jesus. Put yourself in the scene. Hear the strained scuffling, feel the ceiling shudder, smell the sweat, see a patch of sky appear, brush away the falling debris. Jesus and the crowd are mentally prepared as the man descends. Then--faced with explicit physical need, Jesus makes his first surprise move. He says, "Young man, your sins are forgiven."

For the religious leaders, it’s a “gotcha” moment, evidence of blasphemy. For the crowd, Jesus is clearly off script. This man has a physical need. Jesus is a healer. What is he saying? Then Jesus makes another surprise move. He confronts the religious leaders based on their thoughts and begins to set the trap.

He asks, “Why do you question this in your hearts?” [Is this heretic a mind reader?] Jesus continues, “Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?” [This is a conundrum without a safe answer. Claiming to forgive sins is problematic. A physical healing is hard to fake. It's only designed to make them think. Jesus can and will do both.]

Then, the final move: “So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” [Case closed. The crowd erupts, praising God. The religious leaders are confounded.]

Like the religious experts, we are left with questions. One truth we see is that we are fully known by God. Hebrews tells us, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

How do we respond to a God who knows us better than we know ourselves? Do we trust him to act as Jesus did, with compassion?

We note that Jesus focuses first on the man’s sin. Does this man see physical healing as his greatest need? Does Jesus see spiritual healing as a greater need? What is our greatest need? Can we turn our focus away from people and circumstances that we consider problems and toward our spiritual need?

In this account, Jesus claims authority in both spiritual and physical realms. This raises the most important question of all. The religious leaders face a choice. They can hold on to their mantle of authority, even though they see the power of Jesus with their own eyes. Or they can leave that worthless rag behind, along with everything else that is familiar.

What about us? Are we bound by tradition, or fear, or selfishness, or ________? What do we hold on to instead of acknowledging the authority of Jesus?


We are uncovered and laid bare before you. You love us anyway. During this season of Lent, show us our hearts. Show us your heart. Show us our need for spiritual healing. Reveal areas where we don’t live under your authority. Lead us to repentance so that we can be healed.

Andrea Herling

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