The Right Words at the Right Time
This was the answer I gave to my college newspaper when a reporter asked me if I thought the school should establish research-only staff positions. The paper had this section where they’d ask a bunch of random people on the street what they thought about some current issue. Then they’d snap your picture and print it with your answer underneath.
1.) I did not care if my school started research-only positions. This was the first I’d heard of it. I just thought it would be funny to pretend I had a strong opinion about what I thought was a random thing. I thought it would provoke some sort of reaction. Plus I wanted to say a big word. Which brings me to number
2.) I did not use a big word. I used a small word (“no”) and a word that is not a word (“unequivocably”) but sounds very much like the real word “unequivocally”.
I had no idea I'd said a fake word until I saw the paper the next morning - they had printed the real word “unequivocally” instead. So my response, which I thought would have at least a minor effect, had so little impact that even the interesting neologism I accidentally coined went unacknowledged.
Our words don’t always have the influence we intend. This is why I find it interesting to see the effects Jesus’ words always have.
In the town of Capernaum, Jesus healed a paralyzed man (the account is in Matthew 9, Mark 2, and Luke 5). The paralyzed man’s friends brought him to Jesus, believing that he could heal their friend. But the first thing Jesus said to the paralyzed man was, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Maybe you’ve heard this story before. Here’s the part we usually talk about: this was a big deal in Jewish society in the first century. There were some Pharisees, Jewish religious leaders concerned with the meticulous interpretation and perfect living of God’s law, who had come to keep tabs on Jesus. When they heard this they thought Jesus was blaspheming, saying he was God - or at least on the same level as God - because the law taught them that only God has the power to forgive sins.
This is what happens next (from Luke 5):
Jesus knew what [the Pharisees] were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
Now consider what those friends and that paralyzed man are thinking before Jesus tells the Pharisees what’s what. I don’t know about you, but if I were in those friends’ sandals, I’d be wondering why Jesus was forgiving my paralyzed buddy’s sins and not, you know, unparalyzing him. I don’t think this is what I would have wanted to hear.
But Jesus doesn’t necessarily tell us what we want to hear. He tells us what we need to hear.
To the paralyzed man and his friends, probably the forgiveness of his sins was not what they were expecting to hear when they lowered him down through that roof. The Pharisees were probably not expecting to hear a rebuke (for their thoughts!). Jesus’ words delivered exactly what each needed to hear.
Yes, Jesus heals the man. Because to the Pharisees (who saw Jesus as a threat because of the things he said) and to us (who sometimes want to listen to Jesus’ easier teachings and ignore the difficult ones) healing a man is harder than saying “your sins are forgiven”.
We want many things from life. But we need the grace of a God who tells us that although we can’t live a perfect life, nevertheless he forgives our sins and makes us right with him. Unequivocably.
Submitted by Steve Theiss, Queens Parish Member.