In an interesting encounter between Jesus and the paralytic given to us by Luke, we see a defining reminder of the relationship between soul and body, the temporal and the eternal. The friends of this paralyzed man did everything they could to bring him within the sight and touch of Jesus.(1) They even disfigured the property of the person in whose house Jesus was visiting in the hope that he would perform a miracle for their friend. I suspect they must have reasoned that if Jesus could make a paralyzed man walk again, then replacing a roof would be a minor problem. But as they lowered this man within reach of Jesus, they were not expecting an apologetic discussion.
“Which of the two is harder,” asked Jesus, “to bring physical healing or to forgive a person’s sins?” The irresistible answer was self-evident, was it not? To bring physical healing is harder because that would be such a miraculous thing, visible to the naked eye. The invisible act of forgiveness had far less evidentiary value. Yet, as they pondered and as we ponder, we discover repeatedly in life that the logic of God is so different to the logic of humanity. We move from the material to the spiritual in terms of the spectacular, but God moves from the spiritual to the material in terms of the essential. The physical is the concrete external—a shadow comparatively. The spiritual is the intangible internal—the objective actuality.
Yet we all chase shadows. We chase them because they are a haunting enticement of the substance without being the substance themselves. It takes a jolt, sometimes even a painful jolt, to remind us where reality lies and where shadows seduce. Jesus was so aware of this weakness within us that he often walked the second mile to meet us in order that something more dramatic might be used to put into perspective for us what is more real and of greater importance to God. Yes, he did heal that man, but not without the reminder of what the ultimate miracle was. Once we understand this, we understand the relationship between touching the soul and touching the body. In this instance, Jesus followed the act of forgiveness with the easier act of physical healing. If the paralytic was a wise man he would walk with the awareness that the apparently less visible miracle was actually more miraculous than the more visible one—even as his feeling of gratitude for his restored body would remain a constant reminder to him of the restoration of his soul.
As I have pondered this and the many other examples of Jesus’s acts of mercy, I look at our hurting world that is desensitized to the gospel message—the message that cleanses the soul, heals the inner being, and brings light to the body. Our world is weighed down with pain, fear, suffering, and poverty. Our world is so broken that if we were to stare reality in the face, we would wish it really were only a shadow and not an actual embodiment. Such is the blind eye people turn to the familiar and dismiss as mere shadows what is tragically real. Sadly, both body and soul are forgotten in the process. The cost in human suffering is beyond computation.
In such a world, the question becomes: Does Jesus still lift body and soul out of the shadow and bring it into the light? I believe he does, and what an answer is the cross upon which “He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Such is the power of love. It is Christ who shows that unless a person’s pain is understood one will never understand a person’s soul. He is the best reminder of what is real and what is shadow.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
(1) Cf. Luke 5:17-26.