“His disciples asked him: Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind.” John 9:2
“When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the man, your sins are forgiven you, my friend.” Luke 5:20
What about sin? How does it apply to someone with a severe mental disability? The answer is most vividly portrayed in the story of the paralytic in Capernaum, from which our ministry has its name, and the answer comes from Jesus.
As this man is lowered in front of Jesus, there is a beautiful moment where Jesus looks up at this man’s four loyal “go through the roof” friends who will stop at nothing to get their friend to Jesus. Jesus sees their solid action packed faith. I’m sure he smiles and laughs and in the same breath turns to the paralytic.
It’s easy to think that Jesus spoke immediately when reading the text. But I imagine there was first a deep compassionate gaze at this man. And then he says, “Your sins are forgiven, my friend”.
Now we have no idea of the type of disability or severity of the paralysis. Jesus gives us a wonderful example as well as a theological instruction. He does not view the paralytic through his disability. He looks right past that as He looks deeply into his soul. The place of longings, hopes, fears, joy, worries, and…sin. He sees this man like all others; as one created in the image of God and that image marred by sin. Greater than the paralytic’s physical need is the need of his soul and that’s where Jesus directs his first contact.
After this he does address his physical needs by healing him and restoring him to the community. Jesus cares for both soul and body. We don’t see Jesus caring for his soul, while ignoring his body, nor do we see Jesus healing his body, while ignoring his soul. He does both, which all of us experience, especially at camp with our friends.
In this act Jesus thwarts the Pharisee’s theology which would have viewed the paralytic’s condition as the result of sin without believing there could be a reversal of his soul condition. By forgiving the paralytic, Jesus is restoring the man to full standing with God and with those in the community who sinned against him by making him an outcast to live in a relational exile.
Jesus is revealing forgiveness for sin and being sinned against. The paralytic is now empowered for new life. With God. With his friends. With the community. With himself. All because Jesus, friend of sinners, forgives the sin of all that come to him no matter ability or disability. At the end of John 9, Jesus indicates that true disability comes from refusing to acknowledge one’s own sin. All have sinned but not all recognize or believe this. Jesus offered forgiveness to the paralytic and he gladly received it.
Next week: The Cross