Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.” – Luke 5:21-26 (NRSV)
There is a lot to be said about this familiar passage of Scripture. In the past, my focus has usually been on this dedicated group of friends. Jesus commends them for their faith, and I think we can also commend them for their love of their paralyzed friend (see Clearing the Path).
In the past, I’ve also focused on how Jesus heals the man’s insides and outsides – caring about his body as well as his heart. I find comfort in this when I pray. However, I’m also aware that when Jesus tells this paralyzed man his sins are forgiven, Jesus is also calling him out as a sinner in front of his friends and all these religious people. I don’t find this quite as comforting. I imagine the man found it surprising – maybe even insulting.
Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.” – Luke 5:26 (NRSV)
The end of this passage is the familiar and expected end of most healing stories: the healed person goes away praising God (although this wasn’t his response when Jesus told him his sins were forgiven). “Amazement seized all of them” – although we don’t know who the “all” are but whoever they are, they are filled with awe – which is literally the fear of God in the original language. And then they say:
“We have seen strange things today.”
The Greek word for “strange things” is παραδοξος, which is the source of our word “paradox.” (See, anyone can read Greek.) A paradox is something contrary to expectation. And while most versions translate the verb (ειδω) as “seeing” strange things – the word suggests more a perceiving with the mind rather than physically seeing with the eyes. In fact, Luke uses the same word in verse 24 to explain why Jesus healed the man (“so that you may know”).
I imagine this was a common response to people who spent time with Jesus – or maybe people who only spent a little time with Jesus. Their experience with Jesus was contrary to their expectations. And they didn’t know whether their response was to be astonished or terrified, so they probably usually felt both. And while they could tell others of what they saw and heard, I wonder if they really understood with their minds and hearts. And maybe the religious leaders were included in this “all,” but I think they were still questioning the first miracle of forgiveness, thinking it not so much a paradox but blasphemy.
We have an eclectic group of people in this story. We have religious leaders from Jerusalem: expecting to learn…possibly expecting controversy. We have people from all over Israel: expecting to learn, expecting a miracle…possibly expecting the Messiah. We have a group of guys and their disabled friend: expecting to find Jesus…possibly expecting healing. And I everyone got what they were probably looking for, making it strange that their conclusion is that they saw things contrary to their expectations.
So what is it we are really expecting from Jesus?
As I write this, I don’t know what I expect. I would probably group myself with the religious leaders. When I come to Jesus, in prayer and Scripture, I expect to learn something about God or something about myself. I also sometimes find controversy – God’s Kingdom vs. the world, God’s heart vs. my heart…
But I don’t expect a miracle, and I don’t always expect to find an intimate, personal compassion. When I pray for healing, I don’t know if I really expect that either. I think I play the pious game of saying that God is with me in my suffering and something good will come of it. And this is true, but my expectation isn’t usually for a miracle.
Yet I don’t think I can say like “all of them” that I have seen strange things. But maybe the reason I don’t know them is because I’m not really expecting them. Do I really expect Jesus to be a paradox, contrary to the expectations of this world?
We’re in Eastertide, and I’ve been thinking a lot about faith – which leads me to think a lot about Thomas, the Doubter. It’s easy to place myself above him, since he actually saw Jesus and all I have is faith. But really, I ask for the same things Thomas did. And this passage has me asking these questions:
- What about Jesus is difficult for us to believe?
- What proof do we ask for?
- What questions do we raise in our hearts?
- What about Jesus is contrary to our expectation?
If there’s anything I can expect about Jesus, it would be that he wants me to understand – to know with my mind and my heart – that he can indeed forgive sins, and heal bodies, and overcome death. Jesus wants me to understand that he does this out of love and not obligation. And while these are strange things to the world, they are not strange to Jesus. And so as someone who desires to spend more than just a little time with Jesus, they should not be strange to me either.
Jesus, I admit that I come to you with low expectations. Maybe I don’t want to ask for too much or feel I need to ask for what is possible. But if I spend time with you, I’ll understand that nothing is too much and everything is possible. My Lord and my God, strengthen my faith that I may come to you both humble and bold. May I truly understand that you are contrary to the expectations of this world. And may I join you in proclaiming, witnessing, and living in a way that causes others to say, “We have seen strange things today.” To your glory, Amen.