"Your sins are forgiven . . . rise pick up your mat . . ."
Sunday's Word: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021912.cfm
Isaiah 43: 18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
2 Cor 1: 18-22
Mk 2: 1-12
I was fortunate to have seen our late Holy Father Blessed John Paul II four times during his more than twenty years among us. The first was in 1979 just one year after his election. He was strong and vigorous as he moved down the vast isle of St. Peter’s Basilica with great ease and agility.
The last time was in the year 2000 and an astounding change had taken place in the body of the Holy Father. Though he stood in the pope-mobile as it slowly glided past numerous tourists in the square, the previously vigorous Pope was now trapped in a near frozen body. His face had little expression other than a look of constant pain. His body was stiff yet his spirit was strong. The feeling I had was one of pain myself. It was painful to see him and I must say I wondered out loud, not the only one, how much longer he would be able to go on. Yet, this great man, trapped in a physical body unable to hardly express itself, was still very much alive with faith. It is clear he was determined to carry on as long as he had even one ounce of strength.
Our scene in the Gospel this Sunday (Mark 2: 1-12) is about someone who wanted something so badly that he was determined to get it – to meet the Lord Jesus and hope that he could do something for him. We don’t know what the specific hope of the paralytic was, or of those who let him down through the roof above Jesus, but their determination is inspiring; almost humorous actually.
Here is Jesus, surrounded by so many hungry folks hanging on his word that he likely never heard the commotion outside the house. He sits teaching and suddenly above him and the folks gathered, the roof of the home begins to tear away. Down through a now hole in the roof is lowered a poor unfortunate man on a makeshift stretcher attached to cords. He is gently plopped down in front of Jesus. I can imagine that Jesus must have had a smile on his face or a good laugh in light of this somewhat awkward situation. The whole scene strikes me as one of great biblical humor.
As always much is at play here. Mark presents a picture of hospitality. Everyone is welcome: the poor, as the vast majority population was of the time, the scholars of the law, friends and strangers and now even the lame and the crippled felt welcome enough to come to the Lord. There is no social status or racial boundaries at play here. Even the enemies of Jesus were welcome to come and listen.
The appearance of the crippled man, then, becomes more than just another “groupie” of Jesus. He becomes the embodiment of Jesus’ whole ministry – to restore and heal a wounded humanity and to bring all back into right relationship with God and neighbor.
In a moment of determined desperation the paralyzed man and his friends so desired to hear and see Jesus that their great faith reveals that God is the same way with us. God, in Christ, is determined to save us and desperate for our faith and trust in return.
In the forgiveness of soul and the healing of his body, the paralytic has his reputation and his honor was restored. No longer need he feel ashamed or branded as a sinner. He is reinstated as a member of his family and is right with God through forgiveness of sin.
There is even an illusion to the resurrection of Christ which will make all things new. Jesus says to the man: “Rise, pick up your mat and go home.” As the man rises, as it were from the dead, he now gains power over his affliction and walks out into the sunshine a new man. The stranglehold of sin no longer restricts him and he is free. There is nothing holding him back anymore.
At the very core of this moving story is the essence of how and why God forgives. In our first reading this Sunday from Isaiah we hear: “See, I am doing something new . . . your sins I remember no more.” When forgiveness is offered by God it is given in quantities more than the offense that was committed.
Both the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that of the Eucharist offers us a healing that unites us more deeply with Christ and the community which is my spiritual family.
As Lent begins next Wednesday, what can I bring for healing? What may be paralyzed or where might I be stuck in my relationship with God and neighbor? Do I feel a kind of spiritual determination and am I desperate for more from God?
Maybe we all need to take a lesson from the paralytic and his determined companions. What will God give me if I come to him with a heart of holy desperation?