7th Sunday of Year B

The cure of the paralytic

We have just celebrated World Day of the Sick, on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11th. If you have ever been to Lourdes, it is at once a humbling and privileged experience. To see in one place more sick and infirm is to disbelieving human eyes of the new atheists, or the cynics, a rather pathetic, hopeless sight, a bad joke, and a grand deception. To the eyes of the believer and in the minds of the many sick that do go there, Lourdes is a place of hope and meaning amidst so much obvious human suffering. We see there too the plaintive looks and hear the cries of the poor.

Today the miraculous raising of the paralytic has many implications for the Christian life.

1. This miracle stands out among all the many miracles of Jesus because of the act of bravery and solidarity of the paralytic’s friends. The key words in the Gospel account are: ‘SEEING THEIR FAITH.’ Their loyalty, their faith, their inventiveness you could venture to say, even recklessness, heedless to the crowds, points to perhaps as well a sense of desperation to go to any lengths to bring their friend into close contact with Jesus. Other miracles are for the most part on the part of the individual himself or herself, or a close relative, or employer. The friends in this instance can symbolise the saints in heaven interceding for us from on high; they symbolise the four Gospels which bring us into close contact with Christ and shed light and bring Him in to clearer relief for us. The collective resourcefulness of the friends also points to the Body of Christ, the Church and the power of our prayers too, if we have faith to believe that intercessory prayer can and does work and bring about astonishing results! What often does surprise us, unfortunately, is that our prayers are unexpectedly heard from time to time, often quietly and unobtrusively. Do we express gratitude on these occasions?

2. While we are not told the hidden identity of Christ directly, Christ makes it very clear that He has the Divine authority to forgive sins. The scribes are right! but it is what Christ desires first that also piques our interest – the forgiveness of the man’s sins take priority over his obvious physical ailment. Only God has the power to forgive sins. The proof – is that Jesus performs a less great work – in raising the paralytic. Their words fall back on them – they must accept that Jesus is a man of His word! The raising of the man symbolises too the raising of each us from the state of sin to the state of righteousness that Christ has carried out for us in His death and resurrection - ‘when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself’. We die to sin and are raised up in baptism, and are continually renewed in the sacrament of reconciliation. Each mini-resurrection ultimately points to our being raised up on the last day, to eternal life with God.

3 The form of paralysis in the Gospel is something we have not suffered but the healing power of Jesus to cure paralysis points to the paralysing effect of sin. Last week we saw how leprosy/sin excludes one from the community/Church and the flow of grace. The secondary effects of leprosy render one powerless and marginalised, just as sin does. Now paralysis is what sin does, cutting us off form the flow of grace. It puts us into cold storage as it were, wishing and waiting to be thawed, reactivated, useful members of Christ’s body again. We can do no real good that has merit in the eyes of God if we have cut ourselves off from Him. The cure of the paralytic also equally normalises him as he is re-integrated into the community. We must also understand the Semitic (false) perception that the leper and paralytic were somehow deserving of their plight - as punishment for some hidden sin of the past.
We do not suffer physical paralysis, but we can think of other forms that Christ wishes to rid us of. These take the form of verbal paralysis – times we should have spoken out or up on behalf of another person, a victim of an injustice, for example, and failed to do so.
There may perhaps be a failure to act on our part – to carry out our basic duties, or to delay AND PROCRASTINATE in doing them. Or a failure to keep God’s commandments, or failure to perform corporal works of mercy in the community or to play a full, active apostolic role in the Church, carrying out the spiritual works of mercy.
We may be weighed down by guilt, fear or shame before God because of our sins. Or we may be paralysed by fear of what others might think or say about us if we are seen to be active parishioners or exhibit displays of devotion through ‘human respect’.
4. Christ wishes us to be rid of these obstacles more than we do. But we must first recognise them in ourselves and to recognise our need to overcome these blemishes we must sometimes turn to supportive friends, a confessor, a spiritual confidante, guide or director, and be able to accept constructive criticism. Then we will - with their help and back-up - have the courage and confidence to be healed fully by Christ of all the blockages that prevent us from walking and moving freely in a life of the Spirit, reconciled, full, active members of the Church.

5. Finally, we are called to become healers and bring others to Christ in our turn, having the personal background of experiential knowledge of His healing love and a peace the world cannot give. We can be convincing only in the measure that we have conviction.

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