Today’s Gospel reading is taken from the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark. After the extensive healings of the first chapter--the man with the unclean spirit, Peter’s mother in law, the many people who crowded Jesus looking for some sort of cure, and even the healing of a leper--we come upon this wonderful story of the paralytic and his friends. The story is a lot deeper than a miracle story, it is a story of healing forgiveness, the power of the Lord, and the power of Christian friends.
We are all acquainted with the story. We’ve heard it over and over again. Jesus is in a house, crowded with people He is teaching, including some scribes, and crowded with people looking for healing. Four friends want to bring their paralyzed buddy to the Lord, but they can’t get near the door. So, they climb up onto the roof, haul the poor guy up, then pull apart the roof making a hole right over where Jesus was. This is hard for us to imagine in the United States, but if you ever traveled to the rural areas of the world you would find that many people still live in homes with mud and thatch roofs. I once saw a goat tethered to a roof eating the growing grass. It would be relatively easy for four grown men to tear a hole in a thatched roof even a hole big enough for them to lower their friend. Jesus’ response to the incident is to commend the friends for their faith and then to forgive the paralytic. When the scribes complain that only God can forgive, Jesus notes that according to Isaiah a sign of the Messiah would be that sins would be forgiven and that, among other healings, the lame would walk. The man is forgiven and healed. He leaves carrying his mat.
I want to focus in today on this poor man and on his friends, and on the Healing Messiah. First of all, the paralytic. In the ancient world paralysis was seen as resulting from sin. We now know that this is not true, at least not directly. Indirectly, all evil, all sickness and suffering, is due to man’s allowing evil into his world. The innocent and the guilty suffer the effects of sin.
In the case of this healing, the man is paralyzed by sin. And so are we all. Sin can exercise such force over us that we feel incapable of movement. A person’s self worth can be so torn down, that the person feels incapable of approaching healing. “How can I go to confession?” someone asks. “I’ve destroyed a life, destroyed a marriage, destroyed my family?” Many times a person will say, “I want forgiveness, but I just can’t get up the courage to seek it. I can’t control temptations. I probably will sin again.” When we feel that way, and at times all of us do feel that way, we are paralyzed by sin. We need healing. Physical healing, perhaps. Spiritual healing, certainly. In fact, if we were lowered before the Lord and He offered us a choice: physical healing or spiritual healing, I feel certain we would all take the latter.
But He doesn’t offer the man in the Gospel a choice. He gives him both physical and spiritual healing. Why? Because He is God’s Love come down to earth. He loves the man too much to allow him to continue suffering both spiritually and physically. He loves us too much to allow us to stay in pain. The sacrament of reconciliation, the sacrament of penance is the sacrament of joy, the joy of healing received. The scribes couldn’t understand how Jesus could forgive and heal because they refused to expose themselves to the presence of God’s Love on earth. We are not doubters like the scribes. We are believers, believers in the power of Love, the Power of His Love.
And now we come to the real heros of the story, at least the heros this side of Jesus. We come to the paralytic man’s four friends. These four would do whatever it took to bring their friend to the Lord. Certainly they were pushed aside when they tried to enter the door. They probably were yelled at, insulted and mocked for climbing onto the roof and destroying it. But their determination to do what was the best for their friend, their determination to bring him to the Lord, was all that mattered.
This is what Christian friendship is. A true friend is willing to do whatever it takes to bring someone to the Lord. It is a huge blessing to have friends like that. It takes great courage to be a friend like that. How many times we come upon people wandering aimlessly in life. How many times we come upon people who are mired in their own self deprecation, mired in the effects of sin, whether they caused the sin or are suffering from the sin of others. It takes a courageous friend to say to someone, “Look, your killing yourself with drugs, with alcohol, with the way you treat other people. You don’t like who you’ve become. But you don’t have to stay suffering like this. Come to Jesus. Start new again and be happy.” It takes a lot of courage to be a friend like that. It takes a lot of courage to be a Christian.
The gospel story for today tells us about the responsibility and the opportunity we have for one another within our faith community and within the community of mankind. There are times that we are paralyzed by selfishness, fear, pride, greed or whatever. We might not realize the extent of our need. We might be unable or unwilling to do anything on our own behalf. We depend upon others to carry us to the Lord.
And there are times that we come upon others that need our strength and our faith to help them to see the Light of Christ in the middle of their darkness. There are many times that others need the power of our faith to sustain them and to carry them.
And when Jesus saw their faith, the faith of the four friends, he healed the paralytic.
We pray today that we might not just have friends like that, but that we might be friends like that.