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Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Times (7B), Feb. 19, 2012
By Fr. Alex McAllister SDS
In last Sunday’s Gospel reading we had the story of the healing of the leper and we reflected on the fact that, in its consequences, sin is a sort of leprosy. It cuts us off from Christ and his community, it is a sort of living death and yet Christ can still reach out his hand of healing and cure us of our affliction. Indeed we recognise that he wants to do this more than anything else.
In the Gospel story set before us today we see something similar; here sin is clearly compared to paralysis. We can easily understand the analogy. We know from our own lives that when we get into the habit of sin it is not easy for us to change —it really is a sort of paralysis, we get stuck and find ourselves habituated to sinful ways of acting and thinking.
As always with the Gospels there are some interesting points to note. The obvious one first: it was the man’s friends who brought him to Jesus and surmounted great obstacles on his behalf. Jesus himself recognises their faith and the implication by Mark is that it is not because of the paralytic’s faith but because of the faith of his friends that Jesus heals him.
We see here the communal aspect of faith. Whatever people say, faith can never be an entirely personal matter. We are a community of faith and in our common faith we support and nourish each other. But don’t jump to the conclusion that it is the strong who always carry the weak. The relationship between those of strong and weak faith is not a simple one, for both need each other.
Another point to note is that they stripped the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching. This must have caused quite a commotion and yet nobody interrupted them—not a word is said about it.
The people were probably so intent on listening to Jesus that they were able to tune-out all the bumping and banging coming from the roof. They might even have been thankful that the man’s friends were letting a little air into the crowded building!
This stripping of the roof makes a good story and it is the sort of thing that you couldn’t think up —it has the ring of truth about it. And yet this action also has an important symbolic value. Faith breaks through barriers to bring a person to Jesus.
The man’s friends are motivated not by some sort of intellectual faith in Jesus but by a very practical belief that he could heal their friend. They recognised that he could cure him but had to get the man to Jesus even if this meant wrecking someone else’s house in the process.
It meant them breaking all sorts of rules and conventions —jumping to the front of the queue, making a spectacle of themselves, besides risking making the householder very cross indeed. I suppose roofers were as hard to get then as they are now!
There is a lesson here for us. Sometimes it is the most trivial conventions of society that prevent us from witnessing to our faith. How many good actions have been prevented through our nervousness about what other people might think?
It is no good believing that if the chips were down we’d be prepared to give our life for Christ if we then fail to visit our sick neighbour for fear someone might think that we were busybodies!
Faith ought to take us into areas we wouldn’t ordinarily go. Faith ought to help us put Christ and his Gospel of love before everything else. Faith ought to direct all our thoughts and actions and give us the courage to overcome our natural paralysis and inertia.
You could go so far as to say that faith frequently ought to get us into trouble.
In the text the scribes think to themselves, “How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God.” It might only be a tiny detail but the word which is translated as “this man” or “this fellow” is actually a derogatory term —maybe something like: “Who does this guy think he is?” Perhaps Mark has used this word deliberately to put the scribes in the wrong.
They accuse Jesus of blasphemy but it is really they who are blaspheming by insulting the Son of God. Those who are studying for exams in English Literature will be familiar with dramatic irony. Well, there’s a lot of it in the Gospels and this is one clear example.
Another important question is this: Who is really paralysed? —the man on the stretcher or the scribes full to the brim with self-righteousness? The paralysed man at least makes a move and with the help of his friends places himself at Jesus’ feet. This dramatic gesture is enough for Jesus. He doesn’t need the man to ask for healing so obvious it is what he wants.
Jesus does not cure the man but rather forgives his sins. It is only when he becomes aware of the criticisms of the Scribes that he tells the man to pick up his stretcher and walk.
The assumption by all present, and in fact throughout the entire Old Testament, was that illness is punishment for sin. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the man had sinned. Nor indeed that having one’s sins forgiven should result in healing. The astonishing thing for them is that Jesus assumes the authority to forgive sins.
There is another curious little word which gives further insight into what is going on. Jesus says: “Get up, pick up your stretcher and go.” The word used for “get up” or “rise up” is exactly the same word as is used by Mark in the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and will use later on for the raising of Jairus’ daughter and even further on for the resurrection itself. The suggestion is that the man now lives a completely new life.
I just want to draw your attention to the second reading for a moment. Often we don’t even refer to it, but today it is very interesting. In fact it is on my list of favourites. In the three-year cycle of Sunday readings I think this is the only time it ever occurs so I can’t let it go without comment.
“The Son of God was never Yes and No: with him it is always Yes and however many the promises God made, the answer Yes to them all is in him.” Here St Paul is telling us that Christ is entirely positive, and indeed how could he be anything other.
His Gospel is not a Gospel of yes and no. Not yes to this and no to that. It is not a Gospel of dos and don’ts. It is a Gospel of Yes. Yes to life, yes to love, yes to truth —yes to God.
This means that everything Christ says and does must be interpreted in this light. It is all Good News, it is all entirely positive and for our good. There is no bad news. The Christian life is never negative. Leading a moral life does us only good. What may seem like restrictions or prohibitions are in fact only preventing us from doing ourselves harm.
Here in the incident in today’s Gospel Jesus forgives and heals. The words that fall on the ears of those whose hearts are open are words of balm and blessing. There is no condemnation in him; he is the living, walking, breathing Yes of God.
No wonder, as it says, “They were all astounded and praised God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”