To understand today’s Gospel account of the cure of the paralytic, we have first to see that in Jewish belief before Jesus’ time and teaching, sickness is inseparably connected to sin. There is a Rabbinic saying that no sick man is healed until his sins have been forgiven; and only God can forgive sins.
So, when they lowered the paralytic to Jesus for him to be cured, the first thing that Jesus says, upon seeing their faith is, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Hearing this, the Jews and the Sanhedrin were shocked. Their reaction was, “How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?” In Leviticus 24:16 it says, “The one who blasphemes the name of Yahweh must die; the whole community must stone him. Stranger or native, if he blasphemes the name of God, he dies.”
Jesus was inwardly aware that this was what they were thinking. So, He said to them, ‘Why do you have these thoughts in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” or to say, “Get up, pick your stretcher and walk?” But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – He said to the paralytic – ‘I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.’ And the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and walked out in front of everyone, so that they were all astounded and praised God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’ ”
Part of the Jewish thinking and belief is that when we sin, God is angry with us and He punishes us with sickness and suffering. So, when Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic and cured him, Jesus’ compassionate love was against their belief and beyond their comprehension. In curing the paralytic, Jesus was sending a radical message to them that God is not stern, severe and His justice is not austere. In fact, God’s love is a perfect love that hates the sin, but forgives the sinner because He loves the sinner. That is why the Gospel accounts tells us that “all were astounded; they praised God and exclaimed, “We have never seen anything like that.”
Tatiana Goricheva, a member of the intelligentsia and a Soviet-era dissident shares about her conversion experiences in her book, “Talking About God is Dangerous.” She shares how when she experienced a great conversion of heart towards God she also experienced a deep desire to go for Confession. She says, “My life was full of sins of the most varied kind, of transgressions and unnatural forms of behaviour. They now pursued me and tormented me after my conversion, and lay like a heavy burden on my soul. How could I have not seen earlier how abhorrent and stupid, how boring and sterile sin is? From my childhood my eyes had been blindfolded in some way.
So, I longed to make my Confession because I already felt within my innermost being that I would receive liberation, that the new person which I had recently discovered within myself would be completely victorious and drive out the old person. For every moment after my conversion, I felt inwardly healed and renewed, but at the same time it was as though I was somehow covered with a crust of sin which had grown around me and had become hard. So I to longed for penance, as if for a wash.
In my deep conversion experience with another friend of mine, this miracle moved us to have a boundless trust in the Church; to regard our Church as the indubitable, absolute truth, in minor matters just as much as in its main concern. God has transformed us and given us childhood: ‘Unless you become as children, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”
Now, at the age of twenty-six I had decided to renew the grace of Baptism. Even though my parents did not bring me up as a Catholic, I somehow knew that Confession and Holy Communion were high Sacraments which reconciled us with God and really unite us with Him in all fullness; both physical and spiritual.
So, I lined up for Confession; my turn came. I kissed the Gospel and the cross and went into the confessional. Of course I was afraid to say that I was confessing for the first time. But, I knew that Father Hermogen, a well known confessor would be able to guide me in the confession.
I literally told Fr Hermogen my whole biography: a life based on pride and a quest for praise, on arrogant contempt for other people. I told him about my drunkenness and my sexual excesses, my unhappy marriages, the abortions and my inability to love anyone. I also told him about the next period of my life, my preoccupation with yoga and my desire for ‘self-fulfillment’, for becoming God, without love and without penitence.
I spoke for a long time, even though I also found it difficult. My shame got in the way and tears took away my breath. At the end I said almost automatically: ‘I want to suffer for all my sins, and be purged at least a little from them. Please give me absolution.’ Father Hermogen listened to me attentively, and hardly interrupted. Then he sighed deeply and said, ‘Yes, they are grave sins.’ I was given absolution by the grace of God: very easily, it seemed to me.
The penance he gave me was a great support. While my friend’s and my sins were so enormous, we found it hard to believe that they could disappear so suddenly and so simply, with a wave of the priest’s hand. But we had already had a miraculous experience: from the nothingness of a meaningless existence bordering on desperation we had come into the Father’s house, into the church, which for us was paradise. We knew that with God anything is possible. That helped us to believe that Confession did away with sin.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the plight and pain of the paralytic was more than mere physical illness. When Jesus forgave him of his sins, he was not only healed, but more importantly, he received the interior peace and the gift of salvation; the gift of eternal happiness.
While sickness is a human experience of evil, sin is an even greater evil. While our sickness debilitates us, sin destroys both ourselves and others. It is indeed a greater miracle to be healed spiritually than to be healed physically. Health gives us a physical well-being for our daily living, but forgiveness in faith from God gives us the gift of eternal life. And, this brings an interior peace that no one and nothing in this world can give.
If we are serious about our faith and truly love God, then our Christian living cannot simply be focused on avoiding sin. While a spouse may say that I have not committed adultery, a more important question to ask is, “How much love have I shown my spouse?”
There is a story of two men who were fighting their way through a blizzard. Then they came upon a man who was lying lifeless on the snow. David immediately went over to help the person, but his companion told him, “No way, I am too cold and I need all the energy and strength to survive. So, he went on ahead. David however, went over to lift the dying person /and with much effort he struggled to carry him along; taking very small steps and pausing to regain his strength along the way. After some hours, David came across another person lying lifeless along the path; to his surprise, it was his companion; he had frozen to death. In his compassion for the dying man, David did not realize that he had saved his own life, because the warmth of the man’s body he was carrying had kept him from being frozen to death.
we have love in our hearts and share this with others, the warmth of our love will spread and this will keep us alive. But, if we live for ourselves, and our love is kept for ourselves, then our hearts would remain cold and we will one day freeze to death. The sin of omission like David’s companion of not doing good is perhaps the most common sin that we fail to confess in Confession. It is not enough to come for Mass; we are called to live the Eucharist in our daily life. We are called to be like Christ who loved us so totally and so unconditionally that He willingly gave up His life for us and died on the Cross for our sins, so that the gates of heaven can be open through His Resurrection.
Tatiana, in our story shared how she was transformed by God’s infinite Mercy and compassion. She shared how her conversion transformed her from her pride, arrogance, contempt of people, drunkenness, sexual excesses and grievous inability to love into a newness and a liberation that gave her deep interior in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Jesus in the Gospel had forgiven the sins of the paralytic and thousands of others during His Pastoral ministry; Jesus had forgiven Tatiana and her friend’s sins through their conversion and Confession experiences. This same Jesus is present amongst us and is also inviting us to love more. Is our love going to be merely avoiding sins or is it going to be focused on proactively doing good? Unless our love is shown selflessly as illustrated by David in our story, our love is not the type of Christian love that Jesus preached and lived.
To be guarded in our love is not a love that his guided by the Holy Spirit. To be truly Christ-like in our love, we must stand up and stand out in our Christ-like living; there is no such thing as a “hidden love;” there is no such thing as loving Christ in selfish ways . . . Christ’s love is always total, selfless and salvific. Christ died for us out of love for us; “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
visitors since 25 February 2012