Ever done things out of order? For instance, maybe you’ve locked a door before getting your keys (I have), or started to get out of a car before unbuckling your seatbelt. How about this: You have something important to tell another person, but you open with a polite inquiry about their day and find that their answer takes much longer than expected? Or, maybe you’ve finished a project and found just a couple of extra parts sitting around, which you realize need to be placed deep into the middle of the gizmo you were repairing.
We all get things out of order sometimes, whether due to forgetfulness or just not knowing the right sequence. In that light, consider these guys who came to meet Jesus:
Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew 9:2 NIV
This account seems to be about the same guy whose friends took apart a roof to lower him down to Jesus (see Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26), since both Mark and Luke follow their accounts of that event with Matthew being called as a disciple (as Matthew does in some upcoming verses).
If so, those other two gospel writers shared a more dramatic account of how the paralyzed man got to Jesus, but Matthew still captures a key part of what happened, in my opinion.
I think that it’s pretty likely that these guys who brought their physically-disabled friend to Jesus for healing had one thing on their mind. They weren’t bringing their friend to Jesus for teaching, or to be fed with loaves and fishes. They went to all that effort so that their friend could be healed from his paralysis.
And, this was a good choice. After all, Jesus had the power to heal this man completely: heart, soul, mind, and body. However, rather than following others’ priorities, He chose to heal the man’s soul by forgiving his sins, before healing his body.
When it comes to the rest of us (i.e., those of us who aren’t Jesus), sometimes we jump to a certain sequence of priorities. After all, there’s an old saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
For instance, if we took a paralyzed man to a medical doctor, most doctors would seek to treat this guy’s physical condition. That doesn’t mean that they are insensitive to the rest of the person – their heart, mind, and soul – it just means that they are trained (and paid) to treat physical conditions. (Having said that, a family member shared a great story with me recently about being treated by a surgeon who would also pray with his patients.)
Similarly, if we brought that same guy to a counselor, we’d probably expect some mental and emotional support. Our friend could learn to handle his feelings better, and master new ways to deal with people who are insensitive to physical limitations. However, except in the rare psychosomatic case, our friend still wouldn’t be able to walk.
However, if we bring someone who is paralyzed to a minister (or any Christian, for that matter), what would they see? Would they see someone who has a disability? Would they see someone whose highest priority is to get physically better? Or, would they consider the whole person, talking about what is on their mind, listening to what is on their heart, and offering a cure for the needs of their soul?
If I know our congregation, I think that they would tend to be more like Jesus, and look at the entire person, with a focus on their soul. Our church’s ministry to people who have developmental (and sometimes physical) disabilities testifies to the fact that we don’t get hung up on someone’s physical or mental challenges when seeking to address their spiritual needs. Similarly, our ministries to other aspects of individuals’ needs confirm that we’re not so focused on the spiritual that we don’t understand the rest of the depth that God built into human beings.
Anyway, Jesus set the best example for us in the circumstances that He was in. I suspect that at least one of the reasons Jesus addressed the man’s spiritual condition first was to make a point about the importance of our spiritual state: In an environment where the Israelite people were looking for political freedom, and this man appeared to need physical healing, Jesus knew that human beings needed – even more than those other things- freedom from the consequences of their sins.
In fact, this was Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth, and it was core to His teaching. Jesus came to rescue lost people without hope (like us!), and the fact that He could heal other aspects of people (who He created) served as a further testimony to the truth of His message, as well as a demonstration of His power, and an outpouring of His love for people. Those are no small things, but they almost pale in comparison to His divine nature and His ultimate sacrifice for our sins.
So, what do we do with this information?
For one thing, when someone is sick, we should pray for their physical healing. However, let us not forget that the greater illness that each of us face is sin, and so praying for spiritual healing is a good idea too (even for those whose bodies are healthy). We can all use spiritual help: even those of us who have followed Jesus for a while, yet are still working to become more like Him.
In the same way, we shouldn’t force our priorities onto Jesus when we pray. Yes, we should bring all kinds of things to Him in prayer. However, in saying “Your will be done”, we also need to yield our priorities to His.
Let’s make sure that we’re not missing that point when we want Jesus to focus on what we think is most important!
From Sunday School lesson prepared for April 11, 2021
- Christian Standard, Volume CLVI, Number 4, pages 85-86. © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Matthew, by Larry Chouinard. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997, p.167-174.