I want to reflect on the healing of the paralytic in the next few posts. One of the intriguing features of Mark’s narrative is the connection between the forgiveness of sin and the physical restoration of the man that was carried to Jesus by his friends. This passage represents the only time in Mark when Jesus explicitly tells someone that they are forgiven and released of their sins.
The pronouncement of forgiveness is controversial here because Jesus acts with the direct authority that belongs only to God. The scribes in the audience are outraged and harbour accusations of blasphemy. This crime would be punishable by death. In fact, Jesus is accused of blasphemy in the trial that leads to the crucifixion. It is also controversial because there have been no signs of repentance and no indication that sacrifices will be offered by the paralytic in the temple.
I want to make two points here for preachers, Bible study leaders, and lay theologians.
First, even in our modern secular society the burden of guilt can be a destructive force. Unresolved guilt impacts on spiritual, physical, and emotional health along with networks of relationships. The pronouncement of God’s forgiveness gives individuals the opportunity of a new beginning. In the case of the paralytic, the experience of forgiveness is part of the healing process.
Second, forgiveness can be controversial. We are most comfortable in a world where people get what they deserve (ourselves being the exception). We are uneasy when the church pronounces the unmerited grace of God’s forgiveness to people that have harmed others through violence or deception. Forgiveness without punishment can seem scandalous.
Perhaps the best route to understanding the controversial nature of forgiveness is through human stories that can serve as representations of the greater miracles of God’s grace.
- Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964. The trial judge was Percy Yutar. Mandela spent 27 years in prison. He was released in 1990 and was elected president of South Africa in 1994. He invited Yutar to have lunch with him in the president’s office. Mandela stated that he was trying to model the reconciliation that his country needed. Yutar, after the luncheon, described Mandela as a saint. The lunch meeting was severely criticized by people associated with Mandela that wanted some measure of justice rather than forgiveness.
- In Rwanda, a woman went to a prison to witness the baptism and offer forgiveness to a young man who had killed her husband (an Adventist pastor). She invited him, after his release, to come and live with her and her children so that he could study at an Adventist Secondary School. She was criticized by people that felt she had dishonored the memory of her husband and disrespected the fundamental standards of justice.
- Malcolm Gladwell wrote that his faith was renewed by Wilma Derksen of Winnipeg. Derksen’s daughter was murdered in 1984. Wilma Derksen drew deeply on her faith and the Mennonite tradition of meeting violence with love. She forgave the man accused of her daughter’s death and was able to experience her own release and healing. Gladwell compared Wilma Derksen with other families that have lived with bitter wounds and the unresolved desire for justice.
- Anthony Berry, a British MP, was killed in the Brighton Bomb blast of 1984. The man responsible was the IRA master bomb maker Patrick Magee. Jo Berry went to a church to pray when she learned of her father’s death. She realized that she was being called to work for understanding and peace. She made several trips to Northern Ireland and entered the alienation and resentment felt by Irish Catholics. Sixteen years later she met Patrick Magee. They went on to work together to promote peace, understanding, and reconciliation. Jo Berry received death threats and was accused of being a traitor to her nation and the memory of her father.
- On 17 June 2015 Dylan Roof, a white supremacist, entered a Bible study in an African American church in Charlestown, South Carolina. He took out a gun and killed nine people in a racially motivated crime. The situation, which could have erupted in violent confrontations, was defused by family members that offered forgiveness in their pain. One woman spoke of her deceased sister: ” she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”
We live in a broken and wounded world. The road of the cross requires us to be people that proclaim and demonstrate forgiveness for the healing of individuals and our communities.