From The Miracles Of Our Lord
If we allow that prayer may in any case be heard for the man himself, it almost follows that it must be heard for others. It cannot well be in accordance with the spirit of Christianity, whose essential expression lies in the sacrifice of its founder, that a man should be heard only when he prays for himself. The fact that in cases of the preceding group faith was required on the part of the person healed as essential to his cure, represents no different principle from that which operates in the cases of the present group. True, in these the condition is not faith on the part of the person cured, but faith on the part of him who asks for his cure. But the possession of faith by the patient was not in the least essential, as far as the power of Jesus was concerned, to his bodily cure, although no doubt favorable thereto; it was necessary only to that spiritual healing, that higher cure, for the sake of which chiefly the Master brought about the lower. In both cases, the requisition of faith is for the sake of those who ask – whether for themselves or for their friends, it matters not. It is a breath to blow the smoking flax into a flame – a word to draw into closer contact with himself. He cured many without such demand, as his Father is ever curing without prayer. Cure itself shall sometimes generate prayer and faith. Well, therefore, might the cure of others be sometimes granted to prayer.
Beyond this, however, there is a great fitness in the thing. For so are men bound together, that no good can come to one but all must share in it. The children suffer for the father, the father suffers for the children, and they are also blessed together. If a spiritual good descend upon the heart of a leader of the nation, the whole people might rejoice for themselves, for they must be partakers of the unspeakable gift. To increase the faith of the father may be more for the faith of the child, healed in answer to his prayer, than anything done for the child himself. It is an enlarging of one of the many channels in which the divinest gifts flow. For those gifts chiefly, at first, flow to men through the hearts and souls of those of their fellows who are nearer the Father than they, until at length they are thus brought themselves to speak to God face-to-face.
Lonely as every man in his highest moments of spiritual vision, yea in his simplest consciousness of duty, turns his face towards the one Father, his own individual maker and necessity of his life; painfully as he may then feel that the best beloved understands not as he understands, feels not as he feels; he is yet, in his most isolated adoration of the Father of his spirit, nearer every one of the beloved than when eye meets eye, heart beats responsive to heart, and the poor dumb hand seeks by varied pressure to tell the emotion within. Often then the soul, with its many organs of utterance, feels itself but a songless bird, whose broken twitter hardens into a cage around it; but even with all those organs of utterance in full play, he is yet farther from his fellowman than when he is praying to the Father in a desert place apart. The man who prays, in proportion to the purity of his prayer, becomes a spiritual power, a nerve from the divine brain, yea, perhaps a ganglion as we call it, whence power anew goes forth upon his fellows. He is a redistributor, as it were, of the divine blessing; not in the exercise of his own will – that is the cesspool towards which all notions of priestly mediation naturally sink – but as the self-forgetting, God-loving brother of his kind, who would be in the world as Christ was in the world. When a man prays for his fellowman, for wife or child, mother or father, sister or brother or friend, the connection between the two is so close in God, that the blessing begged may well flow to the end of the prayer. Such a one then is, in his poor, far-off way, an advocate with the Father, like his master, Jesus Christ, the righteous. He takes his friend into the presence with him, or if not into the presence, he leaves him with but the veil between them, and they touch through the veil.
The next is the case of the palsied man, so graphically given both by Saint Mark and Saint Luke, and with less of circumstance by Saint Matthew. This miracle also was done in Capernaum, called his own city. Pharisees and doctors of the law from every town in the country, hearing of his arrival, had gathered to him, and were sitting listening to his teaching. There was no possibility of getting near him, and the sick man’s friends had carried him up to the roof, taken off the tiles, and let him down into the presence. It should not be their fault if the poor fellow was not cured. “Jesus seeing their faith – When Jesus saw their faith – And when he saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer – Son – Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” The forgiveness of the man’s sins is by all of the narrators connected with the faith of his friends. This is very remarkable. The only other instance in which similar words are recorded, is that of the woman who came to him in Simon’s house, concerning whom he showed first, that her love was a sign that her sins were already forgiven. What greater honor could he honor their faith withal than grant in their name, unasked, the one mighty boon? They had brought the man to him; to them he forgave his sins. He looked into his heart, and probably saw, as in the case of the man whom he cured by the pool of Bethesda, telling him to go and sin no more, that his own sins had brought upon him this suffering, a supposition which aids considerably to the understanding of the consequent conversation; saw, at all events, that the assurance of forgiveness was what he most needed, whether because his conscience was oppressed with a sense of guilt, or that he must be brought to think more of the sin than of the suffering; for it involved an awful rebuke to the man, if he required it still – that the Lord should, when he came for healing, present him with forgiveness. Nor did he follow it at once with the cure of his body, but delayed that for a little, probably for the man’s sake, as probably for the sake of those present, whom he had been teaching for some time, and in whose hearts he would now fix the lesson concerning the divine forgiveness which he had preached to them in bestowing it upon the sick man. For his words meant nothing, except they meant that God forgave the man. The scribes were right when they said that none could forgive sins but God – that is, in the full sense in which forgiveness is still needed by every human being, should all his fellows whom he has injured have forgiven him already.
They said in their hearts, “He is a blasphemer.” This was what he had expected.
“Why do you think evil in your hearts?” he said, that is, evil of me – that I am a blasphemer.
He would now show them that he was no blasphemer; that he had the power to forgive, that it was the will of God that he should preach the remission of sins. How could he show it them? In one way only: by dismissing the consequence, the punishment of those sins, sealing thus in the individual case the general truth. He who could say to a man, by the eternal law suffering the consequences of sin: “Be whole, well, strong; suffer no more,” must have the right to pronounce his forgiveness; else there was another than God who had to cure with a word the man whom his maker had afflicted. If there were such another, the kingdom of God must be trembling to its fall, for a stronger had invaded and reversed its decrees. Power does not give the right to pardon, but its possession may prove the right. “Whether is easier – to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Rise up and walk?” If only God can do either, he who can do the one must be able to do the other.
“That ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon Earth to forgive sins – Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.”
Up rose the man, took up that whereon he had lain, and went away, knowing in himself that his sins were forgiven him, for he was able to glorify God.
It seems to me against our Lord’s usual custom with the scribes and Pharisees to grant them such proof as this. Certainly, to judge by those recorded, the whole miracle was in aspect and order somewhat unusual. But I think the men here assembled were either better than the most of their class, or in a better mood than common, for Saint Luke says of them that the power of the Lord was present to heal them. To such therefore proof might be accorded which was denied to others. That he might heal these learned doctors around him, he forgave the sins first and then cured the palsy of the man before him. For their sakes he performed the miracle thus. Then, like priests, like people; for where their leaders were listening, the people broke open the roof to get the helpless into his presence.
“They marveled and glorified God which had given such power unto men” – “Saying, We never saw it on this fashion.” – “They were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things today.”
And yet Capernaum had to be brought down to hell, and no man can tell the place where it stood.