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§ 168. Christ Heals a Paralytic at Capernaum, and the Pharisees accuse him of Blasphemy.—The Accusation Repelled. (Matt, ix., 1; Mark, ii., 1; Luke, v. 17.)

The attack made upon Christ at Jerusalem involved, as we have seen, two charges, viz., that he violated the law, and that he assumed a power and dignity to which no man could have a right. The Pharisees continued their persecutions, on the same grounds, in Galilee also, where his labours offered them many points of assault. But against all such attacks his Divine greatness only displayed itself the more conspicuously.

On one occasion he returned to Capernaum from one of his preaching tours, and when his arrival was known many gathered around him. Some sought him to hear the words of life from his lips; to obtain help for their bodies or their souls; others, doubtless, with hostile intent, to put captious questions, and act as spies upon his words and actions; and curiosity, too, had done its part; so that the door of the house was beset with people. The Saviour was interrupted in his teaching by a great noise without. A man palsied in all his limbs, tormented by pain of body and anguish of heart, had caused himself to be carried thither. His disease may have been caused by sinful excesses; or it may have so awakened his sense of guilt as that he felt it to be a punishment for his sins; but, be this as it may, the disease of his body and the distress of his soul seem to have been closely connected, and to have reacted upon each other.447447   Schleiermacher concluded, from the great pains that were taken, and the unusual means that were resorted to to bring the sick man to Christ, that the Saviour was about to depart immediately from the city. But Mark’s account shows that he had just returned, and that a vast crowd had gathered about him. A momentary exacerbation of the sick man’s sufferings may have caused the haste; but we do not know enough about his case to decide this. Both required to be healed, in order to a radical cure. Though the bodily ailment was a real one, and not due to a psychical cause, still, such was the reciprocal action of spirit and body, that the spiritual anguish had first to be remedied. And, on the other hand, as the disease seemed to be a punishment for sin, he needed, for the healing of his soul, a sensible pledge of the pardon of his sins; and such a pledge he was to find in the cure of his palsy.

Four men carried the couch on which the sick man lay; but the throng was so great that they could not make their way through. The palsied man was anxious to see the Saviour, by whom he hoped to be relieved. Entrance by the door was impossible; but the Oriental mode of building afforded a means of access, to which they at once had recourse. Passing up the stairs, which led from the outside to the flat roof of the house,448448   The accounts of Mark and Luke bear throughout the vivid stamp of eye-witnesses. The unusual feature of the event is related in the simplest possible way, without a trace of exaggeration; and it is all in perfect keeping with Oriental life. Strauss assumes, without the slightest ground, that these accounts are exaggerated copies of Matthew’s (ix., 1), which is much the most simple. We have far more reason to take it the other way, and consider Matthew’s as an abridged statement, the main object of which was to report what Christ said, and not to give a full detail of the circumstances. Strauss says, further, that the words, “when he saw their faith,” gave occasion for the invention of the story of the letting down of the bier through the roof, &c. Let us look at this. If Jesus set so high a value upon the faith of the men, he did it, either because he saw their faith by that glance of his which searched men’s hearts, or because they gave some outward sign of it. [Strauss would not be likely to admit the first, and the second] is precisely met by the statement of Luke. Moreover, an invention of this kind would have been utterly inconsistent with the spirit of early Christianity, which had too high a conception of Christ’s power to pierce the thoughts of men to suppose that he needed any outward sign of a really existing faith. Again, if it be agreed that admittance could be had by a door in the roof, it may be questioned whether such a door would be large enough to admit a couch But, probably, no such door existed in Eastern houses. Joseph., Archaeol., I. xiv., xv.,) § 12, confirms this. Herod I. had taken a village, in which there were many of the enemy’s soldiers; part of them were taken on the roofs, and then, it is said, “τοὺς ὀρόφους τῶν οἴκων κατασκάπτων, ἔμπλεα τὰ κάτω τῶν στρατιωτῶν ἑώρα ἀθρόων ἀπειλημμένων.” Even those who suppose Mark’s account to be an imitation of Luke’s, or of the ἀπομνημόνευμα which Luke followed, must still admit that it implies an intimate acquaintance with the construction of Eastern houses. Had there been a way of getting through the roof otherwise, he would not have said that they broke it. As I have said before, Mark’s details, in many places, imply that he used a separate authority; although I cannot believe, with some, that his Gospel was the original basis of Matthew and Luke. they made an opening by removing part of the tiles, and let the couch down into an upper chamber.


Christ’s first words to the sick man, addressed to his longing and faith, were, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee;” and this balm, poured into the wounded spirit, prepared the way for the healing of his corporeal malady.

The Pharisees, always on the watch, seized upon this opportunity to renew their accusations; he had claimed a fulness of power which belonged to God alone; the power, namely, to forgive sins. Perceiving their irritation, he appealed to a fact which could not be denied, as proof that he claimed no power which he could not fully exercise. [“Whether is it easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins449449   God forgives the sins in heaven, but Christ, as Man, announces the Divine forgiveness. “Son of Man” and “in earth” are correlative conceptions. (then saith he to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house. And he arose, and departed to his house.”] “ It is easy to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; for if these words really produce any result, it could not be perceptible to the senses, and, for that reason, the lack of the result could not convict an impostor;450450   It was only in this sense, and not with reference to the act of power in itself, that Christ said, “It is easier” &c. but he who says Arise and walk must really possess the power which his words claim, or his untruth will be immediately exposed.”

And the fact that the Divine power of his words revivified the dead 252limbs of the paralytic proved that he had the power, by granting forgiveness of sins, to awaken the dead soul to a new spiritual life. In this case the two were bound together.

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