In the ninth chapter of his gospel, St. Matthew relates a remarkable miracle.
Some men brought to Jesus a man who was a severe paralytic. So immobile, indeed, that he needed to be carried on a mat like a patient on a stretcher. St. Matthew does not tell us precisely how the man was paralysed, but one is left with the impression that this was not a congenital paralysis. Usually the gospel writers are very careful to mention whether an illness or disease was “from birth”.
We do know that severe accidents were relatively common in the ancient world. Our Lord even references a number of people who were tragically killed in the collapse of a tower.
In the ancient world, people unfortunate enough to be badly injured usually died. Medical technology of the era simply could not cope with extreme conditions and so the injured were “left in the hands of God” – as we always are, even if modern medicine sometimes deludes us into thinking we are not.
People who survived accidents with broken and deformed bodies – especially men – lost most of their economic capacity. They essentially became beggars, reliant upon their wife, children, or friends to provide the essentials of life. It was an unenviable and pitiable condition. Particularly if they lived with chronic pain.
St. Matthew tells us that our Lord “saw their faith” – the faith of the paralytic’s friends.
This is a remarkable observation. We know that Christ could see into the hearts of men with perfect perspicuity. But St. Matthew intends us to see that the faith of these men was demonstrated in action: they invested effort to bring their friend to Jesus, and they came with expectancy. This was not a scholarly expectation. It was not theologically complicated.
Their comprehension was simple and straightforward: This is the One who can heal!
When Jesus saw the paralytic he did not immediately tell him he was going to be healed from his paralysis. Instead, the Lord tells him to “Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven”. Do we get what St. Matthew is saying here? Forgiveness of sins is the first order of business. Indeed, righteousness with God was always the foremost priority in the economy of our Lord who sees and knows all things.
The forgiveness of sins! If we see things rightly, then we understand that reconciliation with God is greater than even being able to walk again. People who have found salvation come to understand that this is the foremost source of “good cheer”.
Could there be anything greater? To be a criminal engaged in a longstanding civil war against our Creator and King, only for him to set aside his royal robes; step down from his throne; and descend to our level in order to tell us that all who lay down their weapons; all who sign the Armistice; all who surrender and come into his presence – even if only with a trembling, weak, solitary sinew of faith – will be received. Will be forgiven. Will be reconciled. They will be given the right to call their former enemy, “my Father”.
It is only after addressing the paralytic’s soul that our Lord heals his broken body. Yet even this is done with purposeful deliberateness, to confirm the reality of the forgiveness he had bestowed.
No matter what the devil will try to tell us about the importance of earthly gain, or that we should look for happiness in sin and material goods, the reality is that a man can only really be at peace – to “be of good cheer” – when he has encountered Christ in faith and heard his words spoken as unto the very recesses of his soul:
“My son, your sins are forgiven.”
Do you hear that welcoming voice? Has your heart ever yearned for unconditional, compassionate and understanding love – the love of Christ, a wellspring of affection that is reserved just for you from the centre of heaven itself?
Have you grown weary of the dusty wilderness tracks through the desert of unrighteousness? Do you feel any tug on your heart at all?
You do not need it to be complicated. You do not need to have the same experience someone else had. You do not need complex doctrinal understanding. You need only to have an atom of desire toward Christ and enough faith to come – fainting, wounded, paralysed – into his presence. For all who truly come, he will never cast away.
In the words of the old revival hymn:
I hear Thy welcome voice,
That calls me, Lord, to Thee;
For cleansing in Thy precious blood,
That flow’d on Calvary.
I am coming, Lord!
Coming now to Thee!
Wash me, cleanse me, in the blood
That flow’d on Calvary!
Though coming weak and vile,
Thou dost my strength assure;
Thou dost my vileness fully cleanse,
Till spotless all, and pure.
And he the witness gives
To loyal hearts and free,
That every promise is fulfilled,
If faith but brings the plea.