The Healing of the Paralytic

Seventh Sunday of the Year. Is 43:18-19,21-22,24b-25; Ps 41:2-3,4-5,13-14; 2 Cor 1:18-21; Mk 2:1-12

Your sins are forgiven … Rise, pick up your mat, and go home. Today’s Gospel account of the healing of the paralytic is one of the most dramatic of Jesus' miracles. Yet this Gospel not only tells us how one man was healed of a disability two thousand years ago; this Gospel, like all Scripture, also teaches us how to go to heaven, and this is the aspect I would like to examine in today's brief homily.

The central message of this Gospel is who Jesus is and how he can save us. When Jesus says to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” the scribes say to themselves, “God alone can forgive sins.” They are right: God alone can forgive sins, which means that anyone who does forgive sins must be God, that is God Himself, and not just someone who is 'divine' in some honorific sense. Now sins and their forgiveness are not directly visible to the human eye. So Jesus shows the crowd a visible miracle to demonstrate that he has forgiven this man’s sins. He says to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home,” and the man does so. Since this visual miracle confirms Jesus’ authority to forgive sins, and since ‘God alone can forgive sins’, it follows that Jesus Christ is God. Jesus is not merely God’s representative, prophet, messenger or even a kind of symbol of God, but rather he is God himself. And since he is God, Jesus has the power to save us and bring us to heaven.

Nevertheless, what is also striking in this reading is that Jesus does not work alone. The man's paralysis, a sign that the human soul is paralyzed by sin, means that he cannot reach Jesus by himself. Fortunately, he has good friends who go to extraordinary lengths to help him reach our Lord. They cut open a hole in the roof over the place where Jesus is preaching and they lower the paralytic on a stretcher. Now one interpretation of this event is that the four men who carry the paralytic are symbols of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. By this account, the miracle underlines the importance of Scripture, since Scripture brings us face to face with Christ. But another interpretation is simply that we help one another reach heaven. The friends of the paralytic actually help him in two ways: they give practical help by carrying him to Christ, but, more importantly, Jesus recognizes the faith with which they act, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Child, your sins are forgiven'.” Now what the friends of the paralytic do is exactly what parents do when they bring a baby to be baptized: they carry their child and their own faith suffices for their child to be freed from original sin and adopted as a child of God. So this Gospel is a validation of infant Baptism. The broader lesson, however, is the extraordinary opportunity and responsibility that we all have to help one another reach heaven. The Catholic Faith is not individualistic; we work together, as a communion, to gather humanity to heaven. By our words and actions, we can lead others to Christ and our prayers and sacrifices may help to save their souls. Conversely, if we act in evil ways and neglect the gifts we have been given, there is the risk that our lives could lead others astray, perhaps even to the point of damnation.

So perhaps during this Lent we could therefore make a special effort to pray and makes sacrifices for sinners, especially for those who are spiritually paralyzed by serious sin. Perhaps we could also make a special effort to give time and practical help to those who are seeking Christ and need our assistance. In doing so, let us be encouraged the last words of Jesus in today's Gospel, When Jesus says, “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home,” he is not only speaking to the paralytic. This event signifies a far greater miracle at the end of time, when all who are in the tombs will hear Christ's voice. The faithful will rise from the dead and enter their true home in the kingdom of heaven, in the company of the angels and saints.

 Father Andrew Pinsent, Saint Ambrose Church, Saint Louis, 22nd February 2009

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