Jesus stepped into a boat to cross the lake, and came to his own village. And -see this!- they brought him a paralysed man laid out on a bed. Seeing their trust, Jesus said to the paralysed man, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven!” Then, -see this!- some of the Bible scholars said amongst themselves, “This man speaks blasphemy.” But Jesus noted their thinking and said, “Why hold evil things in your hearts? Which is easier; to say, your sins are forgiven; or to say, rise and walk? But to let you discover that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to to the paralysed man, “Rise, take your bedding, and go home!” And he rose and went home. When the crowd saw it, they were seized with amazement and honoured God for giving such authority to human beings.

Again, a comparison with Mark’s version,(Mark2) which has many telling details that Matthew omits, is instructive. Matthew cuts to what he sees as the issue, the connection between forgiveness of sins and healing. Because illness was seen as a sign of the removal of God’s blessing, ill people often saw themselves as subject to punishment for their sins. Jesus’ ministry of healing cut through this socially constructed sense of guilt, freeing the person to be well. Here this subterranean dimension of Jesus’ healing is highlighted by Matthew.

Of course it is God who forgives- Jesus was not contradicting this fact, but rather accepting responsibility for making it known. Indeed how could God’s forgiveness be known without publicity? Of course traditional Jewish religion believed in God’s forgiveness, making it known through the sacrificial system of the temple, and especially in the ritual of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, when the High Priest entered the most holy place to make sacrifice for the sins of the people. The Bible Scholars doubtless saw Jesus’ promiscuous grant of forgiveness as a blasphemous by-passing of the priestly arrangement. The book of Hebrews interpreted Jesus’ relationship to God’s forgiveness as consisting in the sacrifice of his own blood on the cross. Matthew, as we have seen, believed that Jesus took our disease and sin into himself.

Matthew has Jesus use an old Greek, Homeric, word when the man is brought to him, meaning ‘have courage’: the man is to engage along with Jesus in the battle against the power of death. The patient is not passive.

Some blogs back I discussed the meaning of the phrase “son of man” in Jesus’ ministry. As well as meaning the one who brings God’s kingdom at the end of the age, it also means the ones who bring that kingdom through Jesus’ ministry, namely himself and his followers. This latter meaning connects with the contemporary Jewish use of the phrase to mean “mere mortals”. This last meaning may be the important one here: certainly the crowd understands Jesus to be showing that “mere mortals” are given authority by God to proclaim forgiveness. It seems to me that Matthew has cut out many of Mark’s significant details to focus on the issue of gospel authenticity: who has the right to announce God’s forgiveness?

I have chosen to translate the Greek “egeiro” as “rise” rather than “get up” as I think Matthew wants the reader to think of Jesus’ resurrection as connected with his healing ministry.

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