April 8, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Did he blaspheme?

See Mark 2:12, Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26

With Jesus healing the sick, blind and lame, his fame spread quickly. He could no longer go openly into the city, but stayed in deserted places. But he did go into Capernaum at times and stayed at Peter’s home.

On one occasion, the people learned that Jesus was there and such a large crowd gathered inside the home that it was impossible for anyone else to get in. Some Pharisees and Jewish teachers were there to see what Jesus was teaching. Four men arrived, carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. Since they couldn’t get inside the door, they climbed to the roof, removed some of the clay and straw, and lowered the man down to where Jesus was. (Can’t you just imagine Peter’s reaction to the damage to his home?)

We can marvel at the faith these five men had—the paralytic and the four who were carrying him. They were sure that Jesus would heal him. Instead of doing that, though, Jesus told the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those in the room were stunned! The paralytic was undoubtedly disappointed: He wanted healing for his body, not just for his soul.

The others, though, were shocked. “He is blaspheming,” they thought. “Who but God can forgive sins?” Healing by holy men was not unknown, but nowhere in the Old Testament was there so much as a suggestion that any man, no matter how holy, could forgive sins.

Jesus could tell what they were thinking, and the obvious answer would have been, “Well, I’m God.” Of course, he ­didn’t say that in so many words. Instead, he worked a miracle “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.” He cured the paralytic, telling him to pick up his mat and go home. We can be sure that, as crowded as the room was, the people made a path for the man and his mat.

If it’s true, as those learned in the law thought, that only God can forgive sins, and this miracle proved that Jesus had authority to forgive sins, the conclusion must be that Jesus was God. Why, then, didn’t he say so explicitly?

We who believe in the Incarnation can understand that Jesus was the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who became man. But put yourself in the place of the Jews of Jesus’ time. They knew nothing about the Trinity, so what would they have thought if Jesus said, “I’m God”?

If they believed him, they would either have been so awestruck to think that God was in their presence that they would have been terrified. If they didn’t believe him, they would have been sure that he blasphemed—and the punishment for blasphemy was death. Later, in fact, when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” they did take up stones to try to kill him.

Nevertheless, by his actions, Jesus was assuredly claiming to be God. †  

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