In his 1943 paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’, American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of human needs. These were arranged in five ascending tiers, beginning with basic Physiological Needs (food and shelter) and culminating with the highest tier of ‘Self-Actualisation’.
The theory has been widely adopted and much of it makes intuitive sense. But there’s one huge gap: despite the many needs mentioned – and breaking the model down in detail, more than twenty are listed – forgiveness is missing.
How do we know this is a fatal flaw in the model? Because Jesus thinks it is. As we pick up the story from yesterday, the paralysed man has been brought to Jesus by his friends, who’ve made considerable efforts to get him there. His greatest need is obvious… isn’t it? ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”’ (v5)
Sometimes followers of Jesus are accused of over-spiritualising things, of ignoring practical needs and making everything about ‘eternal’ stuff, as if this life doesn’t matter. And we have to admit that sometimes those critiques are valid, not least because Jesus does not ignore the man’s practical wellbeing. He ends the encounter by healing the man, thereby blessing him both spiritually and physically. It follows, then, that this is our model too: we care for the whole person.
However, we must also beware the opposite temptation: of being so caught up with physical and material things that we ignore the state of a person’s soul. From Jesus’ perspective, this would be a grave mistake. His assessment of the man’s greatest need was to be right with God first – and then to be healed physically.
As he makes this point to the Pharisees, he also points them (and us) towards the source of this forgiveness: none other than Jesus himself. What Jesus claims here would be blasphemy… unless it was true, and he really was the divine son, with the authority to forgive everything that separates us from God.
As we reflect on this story today, let’s bring our deepest need to the Lord; and let’s do that with a heart full of joy – because we too can know, like the man in our story, that our deepest need has been met. We have been forgiven, for all eternity – praise God!