The gospel reading we heard this Sunday, about the healing of the paralytic who was carried to Jesus by four friends, is actually as much about forgiveness and sin as it is healing.
The question the “religious teachers” get caught on in the story is whether or not Jesus has the authority to forgive this man’s sins. The underlying assumption here is that the man’s affliction is a consequence, either of his sins, or his parents. There may be circumstances where we might agree that there is a cause and effect relationship between an action and a physical symptom. (If someone hits me with a hammer, the injuries caused could be said to be the result of their action!)
In the ancient world it was fairly common to explain illness as a punishment for, or consequence of sin. This goes beyond a simple cause and effect relationship, to saying that God, as judge, jury, and executioner, would observe an action, weigh its morality, and then act to punish the wrong-doer (or their offspring) by making them sick, or disabled.
In our time we find this an unhelpful explanation for illness, and a deeply disturbing image of God. But it does help us to understand why the “religious teachers” in the story could not simply rejoice with the rest of the crowd at the healing of the paralytic. Their focus was not on his physical state, but on his status with God.
Many of us have met people who seem to feel, in the midst of illness or tragedy, as the ancients did, that God is punishing them. I believe that part of Jesus’ earthly mission, and ours, is to challenge that notion, and offer assurance that we are, each of us, deeply loved by God.