So the King went to the next towns, and then to others farther off: but rarely very far. Most of this part of his ministry was spent so near the Lake of Galilee that from every hill he could look back and see the shining of the blue water. His new friends, the fishermen, went with him, making a pleasant company as they walked and talked along the green ways, and sat at noon in the cool of the great trees. And the King stood in the marketplaces of the little towns and spoke to the people who were gathered there, telling them always that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that if they wished to see it they must put away their sins, and that whoever saw it would find it beautiful and satisfying beyond all imagination; and this was called the gospel; that is, the good news,—for that is what the word means. So he went about telling the good news. And in all the places he found sick people, on whom he laid his hands that he might make them well. This he preferred to do quietly and privately, for he did not like excitement, or crowds, or to have people staring at him. Sometimes he asked the sick not to tell who healed them; but they were usually so very happy and thankful that they could not keep it to themselves. And the result was that our Lord could not stay any longer in the towns, but walked in the country among the farms.
One day, however, he came back to Capernaum, and went into a house, probably Peter's house. And people heard that he was there, and again the street before the house was crowded, though this time the crowd was mostly made up of well people. Some who had come that other day on crutches were now walking as briskly as if they had gone on two feet all their lives. And Jesus preached to them. He preached the gospel to the poor, and deliverance to those held captive by falsehood or by sin, and the acceptable year of the Lord. There they stood listening.
Now there was a young man in Capernaum who was paralyzed so that he could not walk. It may be that he could not even talk, for in the midst of all the wonders of that day he seems to have said nothing. We may guess that he was a young man, for we shall presently hear our Lord calling him "Son;" and our Lord was only thirty years of age. He was a young man, then, looking forward to a long life of uselessness and pain. Moreover, lying as he did day after day, much of the time alone, he had opportunity to think, and there were thoughts in his heart which had not come to him when he was strong and active, busy with work and play. He learned, as he lay there, that he was sick in his soul as well as in his body. He began to realize his sins. He began to see that, while it is bad enough to have a lame body, it is much worse to have a pale, thin, weak, and lame soul. And when he prayed God to make him well, he asked to be free not only from his palsy but from his sins.
The young man had four friends. And when they heard that our Lord was come again to town, they met together. "The Prophet is here," they said one to another, "he is in Peter's house. You know what happened that morning in the synagogue, and that evening in the street in front of Peter's house; how he healed the sick. Let us take our friend to him that he may lay his hand on him and heal him." So they came in with this great plan, and there on his bed lay the sick man. It was a very simple bed, only a quilt or a blanket spread upon the floor; and they took each man a corner and carried him out into the street. But as they came near to Peter's house, they saw the crowd. It was a great crowd, filling all the street, and it was plain that they could not get through it. There was the Master in the house, but they could not reach him. What should they do? The wide door was open, and the Master sat within, but a hundred people stood between. How could they come into his presence?
The house, like the other houses, was but a single story high, and the roof was flat. There was an outside stairway leading up; for the roof was a cool place in hot days; the lake winds swept across it. People sat on the roof in that country, as we sit on the porch. So the men climbed up. Up they went with much difficulty, the two who were ahead bending down, and the two who were behind holding their arms up, to keep the palsied man from falling out. And when they got upon the roof, what did they do but begin to break a hole in it. They kicked with their heels and pulled with their hands, and the people below heard a great noise going on above, and pretty soon splinters began to fall upon their heads, and there, as they looked up, was a man's strong hand, and his arm and shoulder, and by and by his face, and at last there were the faces of four men looking down through a large opening. And the four took the blanket and let the sick man down through the broken roof, right at the Master's feet.
letting down the sick man
Our Lord looked at them and then at him. He was glad to see how sure they were that he would help them. And the young man's face was like an open book, and his eyes prayed, though his lips were still. His eyes said, "Lord, help me. Help me to get rid of my sins and of my sickness." But his sins troubled him most. And our Lord answered the longing of the sick man's heart. "Son," he said, "thy sins are forgiven thee." For that was a part of the gospel which he preached,—that our Father in heaven forgives the sins of all those who are truly sorry and wish to be better. So he said, speaking very kindly and affectionately, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." For he knew that the soul is the most important part of a man, and that to have a sick soul is the worst of all possible ills; and he ministered to the sick soul before he did anything about the sick body.
But in the house were certain scribes sitting. A scribe is a man who writes, as a prophet is a man who speaks: that is what the names mean. And there is a wider difference than that. The words which the prophets spoke were new words, which they had heard from God; but the words which the scribes wrote were old words, copied out of old books, mostly out of old law books. The prophet was a man of the present and of the future, but the scribe was a man of the past. The scribes were very conservative persons; that is, they liked to have everything go on in the old way, by rule. Already, they had begun to distrust and dislike our Lord because he spoke, not as one who is reciting a dull lesson, but as one who is telling what he thinks himself. And when the scribes heard him say, "Thy sins be forgiven thee," they were shocked greatly. They began to whisper among themselves, saying, "Who is this that speaks thus in the place of God? Who can forgive sins but God only?" And Jesus read their minds as he had read the eyes of the sick man. And he said unto them, "Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Which is easier to say, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee,' or to say, 'Rise up and walk?' But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,"—turning to the sick man: "I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house." And immediately the man arose and took up his blanket, and went forth before them all; the crowd parting to let him through, all being amazed and saying, "We have seen strange things to-day."
Long after, our Lord said to his disciples that they were to do just as he had done; when they saw a sinner who was sorry for his sins, they were to assure him of the forgiveness of God. And the sins, he said, which you shall thus forgive shall be forgiven in heaven. But the scribes looked in their old books, and though they found something about the priests in the temple forgiving sins, they found nothing which seemed to them to justify our Lord's great words. And the deed of mercy which he did served only to embitter them against him.