“And we too can only serve the Lord energetically if our faith thrives and is present in abundance.” - Pope Benedict XVI
Mark 2:1-12: When he returned to Capernaum some time later, word went round that he was back; and so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door. He was preaching the word to them when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowd made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some scribes were sitting there, and they thought to themselves, ‘How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?’ Jesus, inwardly aware that this was what they were thinking, said to them, ‘Why do you have these thoughts in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven or to say, Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.’ And the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and walked out in front of everyone, so that they were all astounded and praised God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’
Christ the Lord Many critics of Christianity claim that Christ was just one of those great philosophers or religious teachers like Confucius and Socrates – that he was only raised to divine status by later generations of his followers. This passage is one of the many New Testament scenes that prove such a position untenable.
Christ’s divine authority shines through clearly in the Gospels. Jesus does not deny that the authority to forgive sins belongs only to God, since every sin, every evil deed is primarily an offense against God, the source of all goodness and truth, and unjustly uses God’s great gift to men, free will, as an instrument of rebellion against the Giver, but he uses a miracle to prove that he possesses that divine authority. He claims to be not only the Messiah sent by God (“the Son of Man” is a Messianic title taken from the Jewish Scriptures), but to possess God’s own divinity. He himself forgives the man’s sins in his own name. He leaves no room for doubt; he is the Lord of both earth and heaven.
St. Mark gives us another detail that illustrates what kind of a Lord he is. Jesus knows exactly what his critics are thinking; he can read their souls. They are offended by him; they are irked, even outraged, at his apparently blasphemous claim to forgive sins. Instead of voicing their objections, however, they grumble in their hearts. But Jesus sees the entire interior drama. What does he do with this privileged knowledge? Does he brandish it to humiliate his unjust critics? No, he much prefers to use it for their good. Knowing how difficult it is for them to accept his claims, and how reluctant they are to engage in honest dialogue with him, he gives them irrefutable evidence to validate those claims. Our Lord wants to rule by love and truth, not by force.
Christ the Teacher The paralytic emerges from this encounter healed in soul and in body. Why did Christ heal him? Because he “saw their faith.” This group of friends believed in Christ’s power to heal, to make whole, to right what was wrong. And they showed the sincerity of that faith in their ingenious, determined efforts to meet him. How easy it would have been for them not to take the first step of lugging the paralytic all the way over to the place where Jesus was preaching! How easy it would have been for them to become discouraged when they realized that the crowd was impenetrable! And yet, their faith prevailed; they found a way to bring the paralytic to the Master’s feet. In a sense, their faith had already performed the physical miracle; the paralyzed man had made his way closer to Christ than most of the others who were in the crowd. And it was this faith – clearly authentic because it produced action – that opened the suffering man’s soul to receive Jesus’ gift of peace.
In an age when Christ is only a stone’s throw away, right there in the tabernacle of the nearest Catholic chapel; in an age when confession is available upon request down the street at the local parish; in an age when the revealed Word of God and the teachings of the Church can fit into a handheld computer – in such an age we need to relearn this lesson of faith. What we take for granted – the presence of the Living God among us – these men struggled and sacrificed and risked their reputations to find. The next time we have difficulty getting out of bed for Mass (or getting someone else out of bed for Mass), we should call to mind the picture of this paralytic, who wanted to get to “Mass” so badly that he had his friends bring his bed along with him.
Christ the Friend Does Christ let anyone down in the Gospels? Does anyone who comes to Christ with a sincere, docile, and generous attitude go away disappointed? Not a one. And yet, they had much less to bolster their faith than we have. They had only rumors of miracles; we have the whole New Testament, the Resurrection, and twenty centuries of miracles through the action of the Church and its countless saints.
Jesus Christ wants to unlock for us life’s secret treasures, to unleash on earth the abundance of heavenly joy. That’s why he came –to give us what we long for, to lead us where we yearn to go. He asks only that we heed his call: “Follow me.” He’ll take care of everything else.
Jesus: Their faith opened up the flow of my grace into their lives. Their faith gave them an experience of my presence that no one else in that huge crowd had. They believed in me. But before they arrived, they didn’t believe so strongly. Their faith increased a little bit when they realized that they couldn’t come close to me through the crowd, and then decided not to give up but to search for some other way. And when they couldn’t find any other way and kept searching anyhow, their faith grew even more. Then, when they hit upon the idea of climbing up onto the roof with their paralyzed friend, and they made the effort to open up the roof and lower him down in front of me – when that happened, their faith flowered, and they received their reward… Whenever I allow you to face obstacles in life, remember their example. Remember that the more you have to exercise your faith, the more it will grow, and the more my grace will be able to flow.
Christ in My Life I believe in you, Lord, but my faith is so weak! It’s like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree: there, but scrawny. Strengthen it, Lord, please. How can I be the saint you want me to be, how can I live the fruitful, meaningful life you created me to live, how can I fulfill the mission – unique and unrepeatable – that you have entrusted to me, unless you increase my faith?
At times I feel as though my soul is paralyzed, like this man’s body. I’m unable to do the good that I know I should do and that I long to do. My sinful habits inhibit me. My selfishness, my arrogance, my laziness, and my love for pleasure – I have cultivated these so well that virtue is held in check. Heal me, Jesus, please; reanimate my capacity to love, because that’s what you created me for…
So many people around me are even more paralyzed than I am. They need me and my fellow Christians to bring them to you, so they can meet you, and you can pour your grace into their souls. Who do you want me to bring to you? I will do it, Lord, even if I have to strip a hole in the roof – I only ask that you fill my heart with your very own courage and goodness…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.