Devotional based on texts taken from the Scripture Readings of Third Sunday of Fifty days Lent – Healing of the Paralytic
In St Mark’s Gospel, the reading for this third Sunday of Lent (Mark 2.1-11) comes immediately after the healing of the leper (Mark 1.40-45), a story we heard last week from St Luke’s Gospel. Last Sunday, after a full week of Lenten struggle, the Church offered us the example of the leper, a man who was full of leprosy, who sensed his need for cleansing, and was not afraid to approach Jesus, kneel before him, and profess faith in his ability to cleanse him, if he was only willing to do so. In response, Jesus stretches out his hand to him, touches him, and heals him. The leper serves as an example to us–to know and acknowledge our own spiritual sickness, which completely infects us; to boldly and confidently approach Jesus; and to ask him for healing, having faith that he is always willing to heal those who come to him with a broken and contrite heart.
Today, a very different example is given to us. Jesus preaches in a house in Capernaum, and there are many people listening to him; they are a large crowd, impossible to break through. Nevertheless, four men manage to get to Jesus, carrying a paralyzed man on his pallet, lowering him through a hole they made in someone else’s roof. Seeing their faith, we are told, Jesus forgives the paralyzed man’s sins, and, in response to the doubts of the scribes, raises him from his pallet and restores his ability to walk.
The paralytic may have been earnestly praying and hoping that he might be cured one day. He may have heard of the carpenter-rabbi from Nazareth, of his teachings, and of his miracles, and he may have thought that this man was his best hope for healing. He may have gotten some friends of his to bring him to Jesus, and it was his faith and theirs that saved him. It is also possible that the paralytic was a bitter and broken man. Paralyzed from birth or through some accident, perhaps he was angry at God for having allowed him to live in such a pitiful state. Maybe he heard of the carpenter-rabbi from Nazareth and responded with cynicism: “Another false messiah”. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, but his friends took him anyway, and being paralyzed, he was helpless in the matter. We don’t know either way, because St Mark hasn’t told us one way or another–the paralyzed man says not a word. It is the faith of the four friends that is known for sure, and it is in response to their faith that our Lord heals and saves this paralytic and sets him free.
Today we are reminded that no man is saved alone, on his own, by himself and through his own efforts. Ultimately, our Lord Jesus Christ provides healing and salvation for sinners, but sometimes sinners are brought to him for healing and salvation through the mediation, effort, prayer, and faith of others. And we are reminded that our calling as individuals, and as a Church, is to be one of those four men, willing to do everything in our power, and even to take a risk here and there, to save our fellow man. That is our calling as individuals and as a Church; to always be on the lookout for the lost, and to bring them back to Christ and to the Church.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that our Church is very often not a place where this happens. It is supposed to be the spiritual hospital to which Christ calls the sinners in order to repent, but we usually turn it into a “spiritual country club”, where the “holy” and the “pure”, the “good” and the “faithful”, can come, pray, sing, read, light candles, and receive sacraments, making a show of their “holiness”, rejoicing in their “salvation”, and being satisfied with themselves. If we notice our brother or sister going in the wrong direction, heading into sin or peril, we do not sincerely try to help. We stand back and watch, waiting for the fall, and when it happens, we talk about it, we laugh, we make fun, and we feel good about ourselves, that we’re not all that bad. We may even come up with excuses to defend this behavior of ours. Usually, that fallen brother or sister will not feel like they have a place in our community again, and we do not go looking for them to bring them back. They become, and always will be, shameful outcasts. After all, the entire population of Capernaum most likely knew about the paralytic, but they ran past him to sit at the feet of Jesus. Only four men were found in the town who cared enough about the paralytic to bring him to Jesus and place him in the midst of the congregation from which he was most likely very isolated. We are rarely like these four men, and most often we are like the citizens of Capernaum.
Today’s Gospel teaches us to be the eyes and ears, the arms and legs, of the Good Shepherd, always willing to look for the lost sheep, to find them, and to bring them back to Christ in the midst of his Church for healing and restoration. If we do this with pure motives, he is able to work miracles and transformations in the lives of those sheep, whatever their spiritual condition, because of our faith. God can work through us to heal the spiritually paralyzed if we are faithful. But today’s Gospel also convicts us of the reality that this is often not the case, that we quite often ignore, disregard, and even condemn such people, and we are reminded that they may well remain spiritually paralyzed if we do nothing, and what’s more, we will be guilty because of it, and we will join them as our hearts become colder and stonier, as we ourselves become spiritually paralyzed. And if that happens, woe to us–we may not find four friends to bring us back to Jesus.