One of Jesus' most interesting healing encounters (Mark 2:1-12) took place in Capernaum, when people from all over were trying to get to him, desperate to have him heal a sickness or drive out a demon, or restore someone whose body didn't work right. He was in a house so packed with people that no one else could get in by way of the door. But Jesus was using the opportunity to preach to the crowd that had packed into the house. Coming to the gathering too late to get in were four men carrying their paralyzed friend on his bed.
Undeterred by the crowd, the friends cared about the paralytic so much that they were willing to risk life and limb and some financial expenses to try to get him to Jesus. So they hauled their paralyzed friend in his bed up on the roof, opened up a hole in the roof, and lowered the man down by ropes right in front of Jesus. Can you imagine? Bold, to say the least. They completely interrupted Jesus. They messed up the house owner's roof too. It was pretty obvious what the men on the roof were after, right? They wanted Jesus to heal their friend. His body was paralyzed, broken. They wanted his body restored and made well.
But what does Jesus do? He doesn't heal the man's body. At least not initially. Jesus saw the faith of the men on the roof (and presumably that of the paralytic too) and said to the man on the bed, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What?! How's that? “That's not what we wanted,” the men must have been thinking. “He can't move, Jesus. We wanted you to heal his paralysis.” Meanwhile some scribes in the crowd see and hear all this and they start thinking some uncharitable thoughts about Jesus. "Who does this guy think he is? He is blaspheming. Only God can forgive sins." But Jesus knows what they are thinking. He asks the crowd, “Which is easier – for me to say to this man that his sins are forgiven, or for me to tell him get up, gather up his bed, and walk out of here?”
Now it's worth our taking a moment to answer that rather rhetorical question. Presumably, it's easier to say your sins are forgiven. No one can verify whether or not anything actually happened, because forgiveness is an internal spiritual transaction. [But it was rather scandalous to say, because it was true enough – forgiveness of sins was ultimately God's prerogative. Jesus seemed to be claiming an authority that no human being could claim.] But if he were to tell the paralytic to walk, everyone could verify whether or not Jesus actually healed him. The man would either walk or he wouldn't.
What Jesus says after his “which is easier” question has enormous implications. He says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man does in fact have authority on earth to forgive sins...” And then he turns to the paralyzed man and says, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And the man hopped up, scooped us his bed, and worked his way through the crowd and left to go home. Everyone is amazed and rather dumbfounded. “We never saw anything like this!”
What Jesus had just claimed, and powerfully demonstrated, was that our greatest need is to have our souls restored to God rather than having our bodies restored to health for whatever time we may have left in this life. Forgiveness of sins was needed far more and secured eternal benefits – though we often forget this. And Jesus also was stating that the physical healings that he did, and the driving out of demons – all of those sorts of things – were meant only to be a sign, a testimony, a proof of sorts that he actually had the authority to forgive sins. One testified to the other. The ability to do the healings proved the authority to forgive. The grace to restore broken bodies was a visible sign that Jesus also could restore broken souls to God.
The needs of the world are all around us, much like the crowd in the house on that day. The concern for the restoration of souls to God must take priority over concern for physical needs. However, please don't hear me say that we shouldn't deal with those physical needs. We should, we must. Taking our cue from Jesus, seeking to bring comfort, relief and healing to people's broken bodies and broken physical circumstances becomes a sign that we have encountered the kingdom, that we have come to know the love of God. People will hear our proclamation of the Good News about Christ Jesus when they experience the love of God in Christ through us. That's kind of how it works.