Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 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.”
Jesus heals a lot of people. It’s easy to chalk up those stories as “Go can work miracles!” messages. Yet hundreds of healing stories, maybe thousands, are not included in the gospels. So why are these included? To understand that, the real question becomes, How are these stories different from the others?
The two things I notice about the leper is that 1. he says Jesus can make him clean if he chooses to, and 2. Jesus orders him not to bandy his experience about, but instead to go make an offering. While sharing our religious experiences does have a time and place, they can loose some of their meaningful, lasting effects on us if we don’t take the time to meditate and pray on them first. Before we share with others we need to make sure we’ve adequately shared with ourselves. As the the cleansing, keep in mind that being clean in Jewish culture had as much to do with forgiveness as with the actual cleansing. In order to be “made clean,” you had to go through a slightly elaborate ritual that included making an animal sacrifice in order to earn forgiveness. So the leper recognizes Jesus’s authority to forgive as well as heal all in one sentence.
Which ties in closely with the second story. The unique aspect there is what Jesus teaches the Pharisees about forgiveness. I talked about that in much more detail back in Matthew and Mark, but the basic message is that forgiveness of sins is much more important than the healing of our hurts. Sin hurts us more than anything else ever could, so we should always be seeking forgiveness first. Hint, God will always give it to you!