Occasionally in the accounts of Jesus' healings there is a connection between personal suffering and sin. This is true for the healing of the paralytic in Matthew's gospel today. Some background helps give the context for this connection.
The Covenant Theology of the Old Testament explicitly connects suffering and sin. Listen to the first commandment of the decalogue: "I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments."
In John's gospel Jesus' healing of the blind man explicitly recalls the Old Testament Covenant Theology. Encountering the blind man on their journey Jesus' disciples ask, "Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" The same sentiment is echoed by the Pharisees' retort to the man, "You were born totally in sin and you are trying to teach us?" But please note that Jesus categorically denies the connection, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him." And God's glory is revealed in Jesus' healing the blindness.
And we find an echo of this connection in Jesus' healing the paralytic in today's gospel, "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk?'"
Today's gospel story -- like all New Testament healing miracles -- asserts that encounters with Jesus in faith are always healing. Emphatically it is not asserting, as Old Testament Covenant Theology implies, that God causes the suffering. The Goods News of the New Testament message is simple: encounters with Jesus in faith bring wholeness of body, mind and spirit.
This is a crucial message for Christians. Don't we experience our need for God's presence most acutely in our sufferings and weaknesses? When we blame God for these sufferings we put a barrier between ourselves and God at the time we need God's presence most.Thank God this is not the New Testament message!
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