His eyelids, suddenly heavy, fell shut. Inside his mind, he felt a thick curtain fall, muffling the sound around him. My sins…are forgiven. Forgiven? Wiped out? In stunning succession, images whirled past his mind’s eye: a willful boy, a prideful young man, a demanding friend, an angry husband, a harsh father. Then the accident, and bitterness cloaking the will, the pride, the harsh anger, holding it all in to fester and turn to despair. My sins, yes.
All at once he noticed the quiet in the room, not a peaceful stillness, but a tense waiting, underscored with a buzz of murmuring voices, a kind of hissing disapproval. What were they waiting for, he wondered? Was he supposed to speak, to testify?
He opened his eyes, eager now to look at that Face again, and to heard the Voice. But the Face was gone. Instead, far above, the four friends still hung over the roof hole, staring and silent, seeming…sad. Disappointed.
Oh! They think their effort was for nothing! But He knew what I needed. Forgiveness. Yes. I can go home in peace now. All is well.
Then from somewhere over his head he heard it again, that One who had spoken forgiveness to him. “Why are you thinking these things?”
He started, straining his eye balls to find the Face. Was He talking to me? Does He know my thoughts? Why were they wrong?
“Which is easier?” the Voice continued. “To say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat and walk home’?” No one answered Him. Huh. That’s a good question. Both are impossible, I’d say. But…He did forgive me, I’m sure of it. I feel it. So then…
The Voice was still speaking, “But so you know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins…”
The Face swam into his sight again, smiling. Gentle hands moved purposefully near his waist. The same calm, commanding Voice spoke again. “Go on. Get up on your feet, take your mat and go home now.” The Man glanced up at the four gaping friends with a last smile and nod, then he apparently moved away.
The paralyzed man lay still, but the stillness was different now, he could sense it. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs, once…twice…three times. Lord, I believe, he thought.
And he sat up.
At once there was a new murmur of amazement. But no one moved. The anticipation hung as heavy in the air as smoke in a windowless room.
He continued to breathe, slow and deep. He noticed that the straps hung loose. The Man had untied them for him. Then, with careful deliberation, he bent his knees. Smiling, he braced himself with his arms, and clambered to his feet, a little stiff, but standing nonetheless.
Now he was grinning, and above him he could hear laughter and clapping, then the scurry of feet as his friends scrambled down the ladder from the roof.
Bending down, he grasped the edge of the pallet which had seemed a prison. He lifted it with one hand and straightened again, caught between giddy laughter and sudden tears.
He took one step, then two, and the crowd’s amazed murmur swelled to cheering and shouting. “Hallelu-Yah! Praise to the Almighty One! He has done great things!”
He continued to move, with more confidence now, and found himself face to face with the Stranger, who just smiled. His own eyes watery, he opened his mouth to say, Thank you. But no sound came. Even so, it seemed the Man could read the gratitude in his eyes. Nodding once more, He turned towards the door. Four scruffy men had muscled through the crowd and stood there now, silently joyful.
The man who had been paralyzed, still dragging the useless mat, walked toward them. And then all five friends moved slowly through the reverent crowd who parted to watch them go, walking toward the sunset with strong and steady tread.