Below we have the latest installment of Bob Dunne’s book, 909 Days that Changed the World. We will post two chapters a week for the summer months. We suggest reading it quietly and putting yourself in the scenes. You might be amazed at how closer you can get to Jesus! Should you be interested in your own copy, the book ($14.95 plus sales tax) can be bought from his publisher Leonine Press, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. It is also available in Nook and Kindle. You may also get an autographed copy directly from Bob by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 13: Jesus Returns to Capernaum
On returning to Capernaum, Jesus tells the five to go back to their homes in Bethsaida for a few days to see their families. Peter’s wife is thrilled to see him and excited because everyone has been telling her how Peter seems to be one of Jesus’ favorites. John and Andrew’s mother is also beside herself with happiness; she knows in her heart this is all going to mean something great for her boys and her family. Even Zebedee begrudgingly agrees the boys’ connection with Jesus could turn out to be a great portent. Philip’s family is full of approving questions as they inquire about all that took place while he was away. Meanwhile, it doesn’t take long for the town of Capernaum to realize Jesus is back. There is constantly a crowd around him as they are all waiting to see what is next. A week or so later, Jesus, early one morning, begins walking along the shore towards Bethsaida, a large crowd, as usual, in tow, swelling even more as he walks along the shore. Jesus approaches Bethsaida, gets to where Peter’s boat is anchored, and stops to speak to the crowd, but they have a difficult time hearing him. They press in on him to hear better and get closer to him. Jesus, seeing Simon Peter cleaning up after a hard night’s work, gets in his boat and asks Peter to put out in the water a bit so he can speak for all to hear. The crowd is silent as they watch Jesus move away from the shore in Peter’s boat, but they are overjoyed when they see the boat anchor and hear him speak to them. He speaks so eloquently, with such authority, and with a message that touches most of their hearts. The only audible sounds are Jesus’ strong voice carried in by a slight breeze and the gentle lapping of the water on the seashore. The sky is bright blue, and there is a faint coolness in the air. Most will remember this moment for the rest of their lives.
After Jesus finishes his sermon, he tells Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Simon is exhausted from the previous night and early morning fishing, which netted him little and he doubts anything will come of it, “but at your command, I will lower the nets” (Luke 5:5). The result is so overwhelming Simon needs to call for another boat, the one belonging to James and John, to help bring up the catch. The boats are so full they are in danger of sinking. They work feverishly to secure the catch and immediately afterwards Peter falls on his knees in front of Jesus and humbly acknowledges his lack of faith by saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Jesus looks at him with love for he knows here is a contrite and humble man who is learning to love Jesus for who he is and not just for what he can do. As Jesus raises his eyes, he speaks loudly so James and John in the other overloaded boat can also hear him. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10).
Meanwhile, many of the chief priests of Capernaum and of the other towns and villages in Galilee are looking for ways to diminish his popularity. Even as far away as Jerusalem, there are leaders who vividly remember Jesus’ purging of the temple almost one and a half years ago and his baptizing at the place where John first baptized. They too have been following the news of the crowds Jesus has been drawing during his first tour of Galilee, and they too are anxious of his growing popularity. To observe Jesus more closely, a number of these leaders come to Capernaum. All of them, however, look for ways to trap him in speech or actions to dampen the popular enthusiasm for this man and to re-establish their own primacy over the people.
One day, Jesus is engaged in conversation with these chief priests and leaders. He is in a small house, and many gather to see him, but the crowd becomes even bigger as news quickly spreads of this dialogue between the traditional leaders of the Jewish faith and this man. The townspeople are all the more interested because they hear some of the high priests from Jerusalem are talking with him. Shortly, the house is full of people inside and outside; people are craning their necks and pressing up against one another in order to hear the conversation. This battle of words and wits between the chief priests and Jesus is not to be missed, but day 459 in mid-January of the 909 days that changed the world will also see Jesus make a bold claim.
Elsewhere in town, a group of men, knowing that Jesus is back, decide to take their severely palsied neighbor to him. The man’s body is racked with the disease, and his limbs twitch and shudder. His appearance is difficult to bear. These men, however, and many more of his neighbors have been kind to him and his family in the midst of his misery. They lift him by his stretcher and walk to the house where they have heard Jesus is in a discussion with the chief priests. Getting near the house, their hearts sink as they see how many people are crowded around it. There will be no way to work through the crowd. They attempt to get people to move aside, but they are greeted with “Be quiet; Jesus is in a deep discussion with the Scribes, which we can barely here from out here, and it must not be disturbed. Listen yourselves how he is besting the chief priests.” But these four men are not interested in this religious debate; they know Jesus can heal their neighbor, and they regroup to figure out a solution.
One of them offers the creative solution of carrying him up the steps that lead to the top of the roof. Most homes in Capernaum have these steps to the roof, as they allow the men to sleep outside on the roof on warm summer nights. In addition, the roof tiles were laid over one another in such a way that they could be peeled aside, creating a hole in the roof. Families would regularly peel back these tiles to increase the ventilation in the house. They decide to carry him up the steps to the roof, peel back some of the tiles (surely those below will think it is being done just to increase the air flow in the packed home), and lower their neighbor down through the opening. They believe with confidence that when Jesus sees this poor man he will heal him. What Jesus will say, though, will be more impressive than even what he does.
As the cot is lowered through the hole in the roof, everyone in the house realizes there is something strange going on. The conversations stop. At first it is a bit difficult to make out what is on the cot, but as he gets closer to the floor, everyone can see it is a man, albeit a pity of a man, as he is shaking and convulsing with his illness. Those who have lowered him down say nothing, content that they have brought him close to the feet of Jesus. They will now leave it up to Jesus, for their neighbor’s need is obvious and requires no explanation. Everyone in the room quiets down even more, ready for the miracle they are sure will follow. The chief priests eye Jesus suspiciously, not quite sure what to expect, but looking for some way to criticize Jesus.
Jesus looks for a long moment with tenderness at this poor man. With affection in his voice, he says, “Courage, child” (Matt 9:2), and then pauses, the whole crowd waiting for Jesus to cure this poor man. But instead of curing the man of his physical ailments, knowing full well the controversy these words will generate, he completes his sentence: “your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2).
The effect is immediate. Your sins are forgiven? Everyone in the room is stunned. The chief priests, in particular, are scandalized and apoplectic. Why, only God can forgive sins! They say to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming’ (Matt 9:3). How dare he put himself on equal footing with God? Their disdain for Jesus grows even greater.
Jesus, knowing full well what lies in the hearts of the chief priests, turns his gaze from the sick man back towards them. With a hard and sharp voice, he chastises them. “Why do you harbor such evil thoughts? What is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Rise up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins,” he turns back to the paralytic and with kindness says, “Rise, take up your mat, and go home” (Matt 9:4-6). The man does so at once. The people in the room let out a cry of surprise as the man stands and rolls up his mat. He looks over his now-functioning body with amazement and thanks Jesus sincerely. The crowd opens up a path to the door so the man, beaming from ear to ear, may leave. His friends on the roof let out a big cheer and call down their thanks to Jesus. The bewilderment of the crowd knows no limit and most excitedly talk with one another about it. Some, however, are thinking to themselves, ‘Another miracle, and a wonderful one at that, yes, but saying he has the authority on earth to forgive sins? Who is this Jesus? Can he really mean those words?’ Jesus, looking at the chief priests and shaking his head from side to side to indicate the end of this discussion and his disappointment at their hardheartedness, follows the paralytic out the door. He’s had enough of these leaders for the moment. Besides, in a day or two, it will be time to gather up another follower, one who will cause even more scandal to the chief priests and other upright Jews.