And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic: “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”
At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven, or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to men.
The world’s bleakness never ceases to catch us by surprise. We hear of shootings in churches, oppression overseas, poverty, failing morality and corrupt governments. A whole humanity lies incapacitated, sinful and in need of healing. Into this a mire of sorrow enters Jesus. Some can see their great need of a Savior. Note that the paralytic was brought to Jesus by his friends. They saw something in Jesus and knew only he could bring a remedy to this man’s pitiable condition. And Jesus saw something as well: “their faith”.
Like the paralytic, we cannot come to this forgiveness and healing by ourselves. When we try to solve the world’s problems of our own volition, only more confusion and pain results. How many times have evils resulted from people’s purely good intentions? Even in Christianity, men with noble aims have reaped wickedness. Why? Because man is paralyzed. He cannot save himself. Jesus says “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him” (Jn 6:44). This means we don’t draw ourselves. Self-sufficiency, good intentions and success won’t get us there. We are beat up, tired out and lying on a stretcher. Faith is a gift and can only be seen as such. It is the answer to a sickened world. When the world says “Give up, look around and see that good doesn’t exist”, faith tells us: “Rise up and walk.”
Yet, instead of first addressing the paralytic’s obvious illness, Jesus says “Courage child, your sins are forgiven”. Certainly, the man came expecting physical healing, not forgiveness! But don’t the two really go together? Human beings aren’t just bodies, they are a whole entity. Wholeness of soul lends itself to wholeness of body. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said: “There can be no peace without soul peace”. This means salvation must be more than good health alone.
The Church’s work around the world is not only meeting the bodily needs of the sick and poor but delivering the good news of Christ. A church that doesn’t deliver this message is simply a humanitarian organization. Other men can give this kind of aid but only divine aid brings salvation. Jesus could give perfect health, yes, but he wants to give more. The gratuitous mercy of God always gives more than is expected. Jesus addressed the most important issue first. He healed the paralytic’s most serious disease, that of sin. Bad health wastes away the body but sin, the soul.
The Scribes react negatively to Jesus’s declaration of forgiveness. They could not believe in the Incarnation. The Scribes and Pharisees limited God by not believing he had become a man and walked amongst men. This is why they deemed it blasphemy that Jesus forgave sins. “Who but God can forgive sins-certainly not any man!” Here, they denied God’s ability to become man and work through a man. God was spiritual. He could be a pillar of fire, peals of thunder, smoke on the mountain- but not a man. The denial of Jesus’s coming in the flesh is called “The spirit of the antichrist” by John the apostle (1 Jn 4:3). This is why Jesus brings the accusation of “evil thoughts”. And such harsh words are justified: Throughout history, again and again, sects broke off from Christianity and claimed Jesus did not become a man, or that he only took on the semblance of a man. And again and again, these beliefs caused a lessening of man’s dignity. The body became unclean and vile, something which must be abused. Suicide and self-starvation were viewed as good while marriage and bearing children were deemed evil. Only Incarnational faith is real faith that restores human dignity. Jesus fed the hungry and blessed marriage. He even wept. By entering our life, Jesus gave us a more full life.
The refrain of the Scribes is also a common objection to the sacrament of reconciliation. Some say “only God forgives” therefore, God can’t or is unwilling to forgive through a human representative. But is this a view coming from faith? A truly open faith contemplates the wonder of God’s mercy without placing limits on his actions. We believe God doesn’t stay in the sky but that he came to earth in the person of His Only Son, Jesus Christ. If he wanted to simply do everything from heaven, God could have. This certainly was in the realm of possibilities. But no, his gratuitous love became man! God is love. We see the danger of dictating how God works. Love goes above and beyond expectations, much to the surprise of the Scribes and of many Christians today.
Our faith maintains that because Jesus took human flesh, he works through men today. Because Jesus had human eyes and a human mouth, he works through the hands and lips of men. We hear the priest say “Child, your sins are forgiven” and know Jesus has done a great work. Note Jesus precedes this by saying “Courage”. People fear confession. Theirs sins are shameful and it’s humiliating to speak them aloud. But when Jesus climbed upon the cross, that shame went with him. Our wickedness certainly does not drive Jesus away when we lay it at his feet. No sin is too great. God always gives more than what is expected! Our view of faith is broken open. We see the glory of God who is so intimate with his creation. Thus: “When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to men.” The proper reaction to hearing about the sacrament of reconciliation isn’t denial or despair, but to glorify God. It is part of the Gospel or “good news”.
Faith is a reoccurring theme in Jesus’s work and mission. A contrast emerges: some see their weakness and desire faith while others are darkened by the error of self-sufficiency. Faith, being one of the three theological virtues, is the mustard seed planted in the human heart by God. In time, it blooms brightly and leads to the coming Kingdom. The apostles, who were so close to Jesus, begged: “Lord, increase our faith!” Let this be our own prayer. Jesus lays out a multitude of gifts and we only need faith to reach out and take them.