(A bit out of sequence in our journey through the Bible, which we'll get back to tomorrow, but this is important and inspired, so here we go.) Have you read through the Gospels and noticed the sheer number of persons who come to Jesus for healing only to hear from Him that their sins are forgiven? Go ahead; read through. Look at how many times He says to someone, "Your sins are forgiven."
We think, of course. Jesus came to forgive sins so that we could have eternal life with Him, and that eternal life is more important than any earthly, physical healing they could have desired. So they got the better thing, even if they didn't know or understand it. Besides, didn't Jesus also heal their physical infirmities? So...two-for-one.
The trouble with this limited understanding is that it leads us to settle for less of Jesus. We're content to be a people who say that He saved us from our sins, and that's all we ever need from Him. It doesn't matter if He heals us, if He shows up, if He loves us, if He cares for us, if He binds our wounds or anything else; Jesus redeemed us from our sins, and that's what Jesus is all about.
Except that the Gospels tell us plainly that that's not all that Jesus was about. Jesus was about healing. And friendship. And presence. And truth. And grace. And love.
How did we get to a place where none of that matters to us any more, as long as we're not going to hell? It starts with what we don't understand about these four simple words of Jesus - "your sins are forgiven."
You see, these words of Jesus had nothing to do with the sins of the afflicted; they had everything to do with their hearts, their understanding.
In the time in which Jesus lived, and for much of Christian history, affliction - being blind, lame, deaf, a leper, a bleeding woman, a cripple, whatever - was believed to be the result of being a sinner. We even see this when a group brings a blind man to Jesus. "Who sinned?" they asked Him, knowing that there had to be sin somewhere in order for this man to be blind.
So when someone comes to Jesus afflicted, that person already has a narrative about his or her sinfulness. That person has spent quite some time reflecting on everything he or she has ever done wrong in life, every misstep, every mistake. It's all they've had to think about in their infirmity. The most dominant narrative in these men and women's lives is not, "I am afflicted," but rather, "I am a sinner."
Then they come before Jesus wanting to see, to hear, to walk, to live, and the first thing that Jesus says to them is, "Your sins are forgiven." And these four words set their hearts free to even be healed.
Because you can't live a new life until you're free from the old story.
Jesus knows they need to hear this. Jesus knows they need to be set free from all they've been believing about themselves so that they can believe in Him. Jesus knows how deeply rooted these stories are in their hearts, and He knows that the first thing they need is to be spoken to, not to be healed. It has nothing at all to do with their sin, real or imagined; it has everything to do with what they believe about themselves.
When we understand this, it changes the way we understand Jesus. He doesn't forgive our sins so that we don't have to go to hell; that's not the greatest thing Jesus has ever done for us. He forgives our sins to set us free so that He can do greater things still.
So that He can heal us.
And for all our religious posturing, for all our blind faith, for all of our resigned assurances that we need nothing more than the forgiveness of our sins, who among us doesn't long for His healing anyway? Who among us doesn't need it?