The Healing of a Paralytic (Luke 5:17-26)

The Healing of a Paralytic.

17* One day as Jesus was teaching, Pharisees* and teachers of the law were sitting there who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, and the power of the Lord was with him for healing.

18 And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set [him] in his presence.

19 But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles* into the middle in front of Jesus.

20 When he saw their faith, he said, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”*

21 Then the scribes* and Pharisees began to ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?”j

22 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply, “What are you thinking in your hearts?k

23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?

24* l But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

25 He stood up immediately before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God.

26 Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.”

(Please note that there are many online sources where you can easily read more than you want to about the origin of the Pharisees.  In my humble opinion though, grasping a deeper meaning in the next several chapters is difficult if we don’t have at least a basic idea of who these men are and where they came from. Therefore, if you’re up for it, I’ve provided an abbreviated introduction as to their origin, nature, and identity.  See below)

Spiritual – Recognizing the Messiah

Verse 17 introduces us to Pharisees and “teachers of the law” (also known as the scribes).  Who are these guys?  They were religious leaders in the Jewish community and it should capture our attention that they came to listen to Christ teach.  These were the mean who taught in the synagogues all over the region; these are the mean that everyone else turned to for teaching, and yet they are here, listening to Jesus. We can also conclude that more than just a few of them are present.  Notice that the verse tells us that they came from “every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem.”

They hear Christ say “your sins are forgiven” and they understandably think that He has committed blasphemy – Only God can forgive sins.  Christ knows their thoughts and proves to them that He can forgive sins.  Christ says, “Rise, pick up your stretcher and go home.” and the man is immediately made well.  In Jewish thought, your afflictions were a consequence of your sins.  So to the Scribes and Pharisees, the man is paralyzed because of his sin; they only way he could walk is if his sins had been forgiven.

The Scribes and Pharisees were astonished; they rightly glorified God because God had forgiven the man’s sins.  But at the end of this story we’re left not knowing what they thought about Christ himself.  They don’t have Simon’s reaction; they don’t say “depart from me Lord for I am sinful.”

When Jesus faces opposition in the scriptures he is most often challenged by the religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees.  However, it’s important for us to note that some of them were adherents to Christ’s teaching (c.f., Acts 15:5).  Nevertheless, as we progress through the Gospel According to Luke, we will see the religious leaders grow more and more entrenched in their opposition to Jesus.  As we read further, we’ll see that everything they know is going to be challenged.  For those that reject Him, it’s so very difficult for them to recognize Jesus as the Messiah because He isn’t the Messiah they were expecting.  In a way, this sheds light on a different kind of idolatry – that is, forming God into the image we think he should fit.

Our prayerful response should be to ask for the grace to remain in a right relationship with Christ and to always seek the God who is, not the “god” we want.

Spiritual – When he saw their faith

There’s a lot going on in this pericope and I just don’t have time to do it justice.  On your own, pray about the action of Christ in forgiving sins and on what has lead him to that mercy.  Notice the heroic act of the paralyzed man’s friends.  They carried him to Christ, they tore a hole in the roof, and they placed their friend in front of Christ.  Reflect on how we are to be like the paralyzed man’s friends and how we are called to bring others to Christ.

Cultural – Who were the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees?

The Pharisees

In the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. the Jews had deviated, very severely, from the holiness of life that God had called them to.  Consequently, their sinful lives and idolatrous worship lost them God’s protection and they were conquered by the Chaldeans and subsequently deported to Babylon.  In this foreign land, surrounded by heathens, a remnant of faithful Jews did their best to adhere to God’s precepts and laws, but it was a difficult undertaking since the priestly class had been decimated and the Temple had been destroyed. Following the end of the Babylonian Captivity (also known as the Babylonian Exile, which lasted about 60 years) the Jews returned to Jerusalem.  Post-exilic Jerusalem (late 6th and 5th centuries B.C.) saw a period of great religious reform and the Jews returned to a life in fidelity with God’s laws.

A couple of hundred years before Christ, new invaders came into the land and pressed a series of constant persecutions against the Jews.  During this violent period, some of the men separated themselves from heathens and the impious, they remained devoted to God’s precepts and laws, and they strenuously defended the Jewish religion, no matter what.  This sect became known as the Pharisees (meaning “separated” for a life of purity).

Because of their unwavering devotion and piety, the Pharisees were accepted by the Jewish people as religious leaders.  During the period leading up to the first century A.D. the Pharisees became more and more comfortable with their position of respect and authority.   By the time of Christ many Pharisees regarded themselves as religiously superior and erroneously equated holiness of life with a strict adherence to the letter of the law.  For example, Christ once said to them “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’“ (Mt 9:13).

The Scribes (also known as Experts in the Law)

During the religious revival after the exile, the Jews wanted to live in complete union with God’s laws and precepts.  The problem was that God’s laws were mostly unknown to them.  The Scribes were educated mean who devoted their lives to the study and interpretation of the God’s Law and the scriptures.  As men educated in the law they were respected and honored by the people and worked closely with the Pharisees.  However, like the Pharisees they grew to see themselves as superior to the common man.  By the time of Christ they were more focused on learning about the law than living virtues that it prescribed.

The Sadducees (the priestly caste)

The Sadducees were the heirs of Sadoc (or Zadok depending on how some spell it), the High Priest of King David.  They were a priestly class and were responsible for offering the sacrifices in the temple.  Because of their education, their leadership role in the community, and their duties in the temple, the Sadducees had to occasionally work closely with the Romans.  This close working, or cooperative, relationship was held in very low regard by the average Jew.  Furthermore, as heirs of the high priest, the Sadducees saw themselves as religiously superior.

The Sanhedrin

Under the Greeks and later the Romans the Jews were allowed some measure of self-governance.  The Sanhedrin was the governing body of the Jews and was composed of Pharisees and Sadducees.  At times, their differing theologies and social beliefs lead to discord in their council.  The Sadducees accepted only the first five books of the scriptures (the Pentateuch) as inspired by God.  Therefore, they did not believe in the resurrection of the body.  However, the Pharisees considered the oral traditions, committed to writing as inspired by God.  This supported their belief in the resurrection.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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