Authority- has had a bad press, in much of the world for over a hundred years and stills seams to have in some parts today.
It often seams to go together in peoples minds, with ideas like, repression, human rights abuses, and such things.
When we think of the authorities, what do we see, policeman, perhaps Judges looking stern and solemn and ready to send us to prison for the small thing.
Faceless civil servants and bureaucrats making laws and regulations which seem designed to make life more difficult for ordinary people like you & me.
In some parts of the world, the authorities, means something far, far worse.
It means that they may knock on your door at something like five o’clock in the morning, and take you away with no good reason, possibly beat you up and maybe even kill you.
It means people who pass oppressive laws that force you to leave your family for half of the year if you want to find work.
Or they will prevent you from leaving your own town to work in the next as you have done for the last few years, because a new border has just been drawn across the map of your own country.
The authorities are people who seem to be able to run things the way they want and are answerable to no one.
What authority really means in all these cases is that some people have the power to do what they want and when they want and it usually means that these people have an army to back them up.
Authority means power, which means force, which means violence.
No wonder we are sometime suspicious of the very word authority itself.
Yet in the Gospels we read that Jesus has authority.
Authority in His teaching!
Authority over diseases at a distance!
Authority over the storm!
Authority over demons!
In to days Gospel we see that Jesus has authority to do what only God can do; to put away sins, to change a person’s life from the inside out, to free them from whatever is gripping them so tightly that they can not even move.
What is this authority?
Is it like the authorities we know in our world?
Supposing there was a different kind of authority.
Supposing there was a different kind of power.
A power that did not work by having an army to back it up or thugs to break down your door the early hours of the morning, a force that had nothing to do with violence, but everything to do with the strange compelling power of freedom and love.
We might say let us have some of that, well that’s what is on offer in the Gospels.
That is why Jesus’ actions were so astonishingly effective, so much so that the people with a little bit of power of their own were so angry and upset.
That is why the Gospels in one story after another tells us that this is the sort of authority Jesus has, and that is why we need to try understand it.
At the heart of today’s Gospel is Jesus’ claim to forgive sins, “to put them away” as the Jews have often said.
The word forgive here literally means ‘send away’, sending all one’s sins off into the far beyond where they are forgotten for ever.
That it seams is what was need in this case, in most of Jesus’ healings, this was not the issue, but it was certainly here.
A glance at the paralysed man on his stretcher told Jesus all He needed to know.
The paralysis was the sort where what we would call psychological forces had reduced the body to a state of immovability.
The man had done something, perhaps many things, of which he was deeply ashamed.
He was in over his head, as we say and saw no way out.
He not only felt guilty, he was guilty and he knew it.
Gradually this great sense of guilt stopped him doing things, then it stopped him moving his body altogether, and finally his friends took their faith and their friend in their own hands and brought him to Jesus.
The faith that they are talking about is faith in Jesus Christ and in Jesus’ authority, faith that Jesus will be able to do something about their friend.
That is what Jesus is responding to, He address the key problem, knowing that all the symptoms will quickly disappear if the main disease is dealt with.
Jesus has no straightforward physical means of healing the man.
He uses the authority which God has invested in Him, authority to forgive sins and so to bring new life.
He is already acting as the Son of Man, the one who is to be enthroned over all the forces of evil, He has the right, even in the present to declare that sin is a beaten foe, and to send it away.
Jesus has come as the Son of Man, the Messiah, Israel’s representative, and He has come, not just to deal with oppression caused by Rome, but to address the deeper and darker oppression caused by evil itself.
Jesus told the paralysed man to get up and the man got up, when sin is dealt with the resurrection can not be far behind.
We can see embedded in this story, some of the forces that put Jesus on the cross, and so unwittingly contributed to His great decisive victory over sin.
Those who object to His dramatic and authoritative announcement that the man’s sins were put away, were no doubt reckoning that this was something only God Himself could do.
God’s normal way of doing it was through the Temple-system, through the established and authorized priesthood.
What they had not bargained for was that God would, when the great moment came, delegate this role to Jesus His Son, the Son of Man through whom authority of the right sort would now be let loose in the world.
But the forces of resistance, the forces that see their own power undermined by God’s new sort of power, remained angry and stubborn.
In due course they begin to snipe at Jesus and attack Him, a process which was to grow and swell until Jesus eventually stands before the high priest himself and makes, for the last time, that great statement about the authority of the Son of Man. (Matt 26.64)
After that, all that is left is Jesus’ own death, through which all sins were and are still dealt with, and Jesus own “getting up”, and that God was indeed with Him and had given Him His own special type of authority to heal and restore the world.