Gospel (Read Mk 2:1-12)
St. Mark makes clear that Jesus’ public ministry of teaching, healing, and exorcising demons drew enormous crowds. Today, we read about the obstacle this presented to four men who were attempting to get their paralyzed friend, lying on a mat, before Jesus. Not being able to penetrate the crowd, they decided to go up on the roof (houses in that day had flat roofs, accessible by stairs in the back), remove a section of it, and lower their friend down in front of Jesus. Nobody could ignore an event like that.
We have to wonder if the paralytic and his friends were surprised by Jesus’ response. Surely they were hoping the man’s paralysis would be healed. Yet, when Jesus watched this drama unfold, He said instead, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” This created quite a buzz, which, in turn, brought forth another miracle. About some scribes in attendance, St. Mark tells us, “Jesus immediately knew in His mind what they were thinking to themselves.” So, He not only forgave a man’s sins, but He also exposed the secret, silent thoughts of His critics. That, in turn, brought forth a third miracle. In order to prove to everyone that He had the Divine power to forgive sins, Jesus said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” The man was instantly healed, and “all were astounded and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’” In last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard Jesus strictly warn a leper He had healed to keep quiet about it. Here, in front of a huge crowd, Jesus claims the prerogative of God to forgive sins, reads hearts as only God can do, and dramatically heals a paralyzed man. What brought all this on?
Imagine the action of the men on the roof from the perspective of Jesus. Their love for their friend, frozen in immobility and unable to do anything for himself, did not allow the impossibility of getting close to Jesus stop them. In their single-minded focus on Him and His ability to help their friend, they must have relentlessly examined all their options. They kept their eyes on Jesus, not the crowd, examining every possible angle of approach. Finally, they saw it. Even though getting the mat up on the roof with a body on it and then cutting a hole to get the mat down (what would the homeowner say?) was going to be hard work, they were undeterred. They had both the faith and perseverance to see their plan through to the end. When Jesus saw the combined effort of faith, hope, and love in these men, did He see in them a picture of Israel’s true vocation? God had called His people to be His holy nation, a kingdom of priests who would proclaim His Name to all peoples and bring them to Him for the healing of their sin—just what these men were doing. Did He see in the man lying on the mat a foreshadowing of His own helplessness on the Cross, nailed hands and feet, unable to move, and yet, by that very weakness, offering satisfaction for sin, and thus its healing? Did Jesus see in the friends a picture of the Church He would establish through His friends, the apostles, always focused on Him and working tirelessly to pray for and serve sinners who are frozen in their sin and helplessness? Whatever He saw in this startling display, it moved Him so deeply that He chose it as an occasion to make a profound revelation of Himself. He made it clear to one and all that His real mission was to heal us of our sin. As God Incarnate, He had authority to do this, which He proved in the physical healing, as well as by reading the thoughts of the scribes. The invisible act of Divine forgiveness of sin was confirmed by the visible act of restoration of movement to the paralytic. Jesus, stirred by the action of the men, got right to the core of what God sent Him to do.
The delight Jesus received in being at the center of such a prophetic re-enactment of the very reason He was willing to leave heaven on our behalf tipped Him into flashing forth His true identity, come what may. Eventually, this boldness about Himself would lead to the Cross. For now, it sent five men joyously on their way home, praising God as they went.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, this story makes me want to love sinners enough to never tire of bringing them to You for healing. Please help me persevere.
First Reading (Read Isa 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25)
God, through the prophet, Isaiah, tells the rebellious people of Israel that someday He would do “something new.” In spite of their past indifference to Him (“You didn’t call upon Me, O Jacob; you grew weary of Me”) and their outright disobedience (“you burdened Me with your crimes”), God promised to “wipe out, for My own sake, your offenses.” What an astonishing promise! Even though God’s people would have to suffer great loss and even exile in a just punishment for their covenant infidelity, their hope of being cleansed, healed, and forgiven was secure: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.”
Did Jesus have this promise from Isaiah in mind as He watched the light break through the hole in the roof and then a body get lowered down before Him? The friends of this man had not grown “weary” of seeking Jesus’ help. Their act of charity here, inspired by their faith in Him, surely covered whatever their pasts may have held. No wonder Jesus was moved, and no wonder He fulfilled God’s promise on the spot: “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Possible response: Heavenly Father, thank You for the “new thing” You have done in sending Your Son to die for my sins, blotting them out and enabling me to forget them.
Psalm (Read Ps 41:1-5, 13-14)
The psalmist here blesses both those who have “regard for the poor and lowly” (as did the paralytic’s friends), as well as God, Who cures the sick: “The LORD will help him on his sickbed, He will take away all his ailment when he is ill.” We find here words that, on our lips, confess our desire for the healing of our disease of sin: “Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.” We know, because we saw the pity Jesus showed the paralytic, that this prayer will always be answered.
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read 2 Cor 1:18-22)
In these verses, we can see a kind of summary of what happened in our Gospel episode and, as a result, now continues to happen in the Church. St. Paul writes that, “however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in [Jesus]; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through Him to God for glory.” God had promised to do “something new” through Isaiah. When Jesus forgave the paralytic’s sin, He fulfilled that promise. The people who saw it all “glorified God” as a result, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” Something new!
St. Paul also refers to the work he and his co-workers had done in proclaiming the Gospel to the Corinthians: “The One who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; He has also put His seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” Not only did Jesus bring the healing of sin into the world, He commissioned others to carry on that work. The “seal” of the Holy Spirit in successors to the apostles (bishops and priests) means that the extraordinary declaration Jesus made to the paralytic—“Child, your sins are forgiven”—has been present in every age of the Church since then and will continue to the end.
As the psalmist wrote, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from all eternity. Amen. Amen.”
Possible response: Lord Jesus, today help me ponder what it means that You are the “Yes” to all God’s promises to us. This is almost beyond my comprehension.