Gospel: Mark 2:1-12
The Morally Disabled
What does it mean to be "disabled?" Is it possible to be morally "disabled?" How?
With a simple word of openness, America began to recognize it's responsibility to those who suffer from disabilities. In the 1960's, Rose Kennedy, publicly admitted one of her children, sister to President John F. Kennedy, was mentally deficient. In that one moment, a family secret became a public issue. And a responsibility of society.
History judges nations on their sense of compassion. America continues to struggle with its treatment of the disabled. So did the people of a small, lake-shore town two millennium ago.
1 A few days later, Jesus returned to Capernaum. People heard, "Jesus is back home." 2 So many people came to his house that they couldn't fit around his front door. And Jesus explained God's message to them.
3 Then, four men tried to bring in a paralyzed man on a stretcher, 4 but could not reach Jesus because of the crowd. So, they removed the roof above Jesus, dug through the ceiling, and lowered the man. 5 When Jesus saw the strength of their trust in him, he said to the paralyzed man, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."
6 Some of the experts in the Law of Moses sat in the crowd and felt shock. 7 "Why does he say these things? He insults God!" the experts thought. "Who else has the power to forgive sin but God?"
8 Immediately, Jesus sensed what they were thinking. "Why do you wonder about what I said?" Jesus asked. 9 "What's easier to say: 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'Get up, pick up your stretcher, and walk.' 10 So you'll know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive sins here and now," Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and told him, 11 "Get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home." 12 He got up, picked up his stretcher, and walked out in front of everyone. "We've never seen anything like this before!" everyone exclaimed.
In another gospel of wholeness, Jesus connected the healing of body with spirit. He also connected individual healing with the socially restored status. Through the eyes of his contemporaries, the connections Jesus made resonated within their culture.
1 When HE had gone again into Capernaum a few days later, people heard HE was at home. 2 So many gathered together that they (could) no longer find space at the door. HE was speaking the Word to them.
2:1 "When he had gone..." is a participial phrase (literally "having gone into Capernaum..." Since the subject of the sentence was not Jesus, translating the phrase as a clause made it easier to read.
"a few days later" is literally "through days." A length of time was indicated. "people heard" is literally "it was heard."
2:2 "So...that they (could) no longer find space at the door" is literally "so that (it was) no longer (possible) to make room (for) them towards the door."
"...speaking the Word..." Jesus was explaining God's message in a more relaxed setting than formal preaching. Nonetheless, "Word" was capitalized to explain the content of his words: God's Kingdom.
Mark presented a picture of hospitality. Jesus opened his home to friends and strangers alike, so he could discuss the God's Kingdom. The effect was twofold. First, Jesus welcomed all, regardless of social status, racial background, or immoral past. Second, the "open house" atmosphere allowed Mark to introduce the enemies of Jesus on his own turf. Jesus and his followers would suffer for their openness. Nonetheless, suffering was necessary to proclaim the Kingdom to every nation. The proclamation would have an affect, for this new message would gather so many together the early communities could barely cope with the growth.
3 They came, bringing toward HIM a paralytic carried by four (others). 4 Since they were not able to bring (the paralytic) to HIM because of the crowd, they removed the roof where HE was. And, having dug through, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 JESUS, having seen their faith, said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."
2:3 "They came...four (others)." The verse indicates a larger group that the four bearers approached Jesus.
2:4 "Since they were not able to bring (the paralytic) to HIM because of the crowd..." is literally a participial phrase. Because it explains what happened next, translating it as a causal clause makes more sense in English.
"...they removed the roof..." is literally "they unroofed the roof." Since the roof was a thin plaster made from mud, branches, and other natural materials, the roof could be easily removed (and replaced) without debris falling on the crowd below.
Forgiveness in this passage meant more than setting aside moral responsibility. It meant a restoration. Jesus restored the man's place in the community (remember the story of the prodigal son who was forgiven and restored to his place in the family). More important, when Jesus addressed the paralytic as with an endearing title as "Child," he gave the man a place in God's Kingdom. The paralytic was saved. He was "right" before God and his family. This sense of place meant far more to the man than the use of his legs, for it meant his reputation and honor was restored. And his standing before the Lord was firm.
A close reading of these passages reveals why Jesus declared the sins of the paralytic forgiven. Jesus forgave because those along with the paralytic trusted in Jesus. In a group-oriented culture, the restoration of one rewarded those with him. Because the man was right with God and neighbor, those with him received the benefits. Along with the man, they, too, had a seat in the Kingdom. Forgiveness, in this case, worked for the man and the group.
6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and wondering, 7 "Why does THIS (man) speak in this way? HE blasphemies! Who is able to forgive sin but the One God?"
2:6, 8 "...wondering" is literally "...discussing in their hearts..." Ancient people around the Mediterranean believed the psychological seat of the person lie in the heart, not the brain. (As an interesting side note: ancient Greeks believed the brain was a ventilator for the body that allowed the dissipation of heat. The head does dissipate a majority of the body's heat, so the Greeks were not as mislead as we might think).
2:7 "...they privately wondered..." is literally "...they discussed...in themselves." This was an mental activity within the individual, not a shared conversation whispered between two scribes.
The scribes were right. Only God could restore someone to a place in his community and his Kingdom. In eye's of Jesus' contemporaries, the man's paralysis was a direct result of sin, either his or his parents. His condition reflected God's judgment upon the man and his family. Since God punished the man (and, by association, those with him), only God relieve the man of his suffering.
But the scribes were wrong. The fault of the scribes was their blindness. Their position as experts in the Law gave them the power of judgments (i.e., declaring God's will) in community life. They would not recognize something out of their realm. But Jesus acted outside their realm of judgment when he proclaimed the Word of God's Kingdom. And he would use the force of that Word to make the Kingdom present. If they could only see beyond their self-interest, they would applaud the restoration of the man. But they did not.
8 Immediately having sensed in HIS spirit that they privately wondered in this way, HE said to them, "Why do you wonder about these (things)? 9 What is easier to say to paralytic: 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'Rise, pick your mat, and walk around?' 10 But that you might know that the SON OF MAN has authority to forgive sins on earth (he said to the paralytic) 11 I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go to your house." 12 He was raised and, immediately having picked up his mat, he went out in front of everyone. All the people gave glory to God, saying "We never saw (anything) like this!"
2:10 (HE said to the paralytic) This aside in italic is part of the Greek text.
In the final act, Jesus sensed the tension and forced a decision on the scribes. God's Kingdom did act in ways beyond expertise. A person could be restored to the God and the community outside their judgments. The Son of Man (a code word for the Messiah) was the instrument of the Kingdom.
The question of forgiveness or physical healing was rhetorical. Both were different dimensions of restoration. When Jesus gave the command in 2:11, he re-enforced the idea of restoration. "Rise (a reference to resurrection), pick up your mat (a sign of power over his former helpless condition), and go to your house (house is a reference to family, not to dwelling; in this sense the man would go back to his place in family and community)." As the man was raised (Mark's words), so too were the people with which he associated. His mobility (and honor) was restored. The honor and place of his family was restored, for he was healed.
The scribes were witnesses to the power of the Kingdom, not as judges, but as bystanders. Their role was incidental; their function was superseded. God had intervened in a new way. The people recognized an exercise in God's power, with the scribes sitting on the sidelines.
Catechism Theme: The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (CCC 1440-1445)
"Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God." (CCC 1445) The gospel of the healed paralytic teaches us that restoration has two dimensions, but is not divided. One cannot love God and hate his neighbor. To reconcile with God means restoring relations with one's neighbor. The Church symbolizes our relationship with our neighbor. The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation celebrates these two aspects of restoration.
Only God can forgive sin. God calls us back to himself and to neighbor. He gives us the drive to overcome our pride and seek healing. But, through the ministry of Christ, God gives the Church the power to recognize his action and declare it so.
Jesus ministered to sinners, so they would return to God. By giving his apostles the same ministry, he gave them the same power and duty. Proclaim repentance and reconciliation. Absolution, the power to forgive sin, is a witness to the power of God in the life of the sinner. It also declares the sinner reconciled with God and the Church. The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is, then, a celebration of God's grace in the sinner's metanoia. And it is an invitation to a restored life with God and neighbor.
Sometimes we fail to realize forgiveness is evangelization. When we forgive, or seek forgiveness, we seek God's Kingdom (pray the Our Father to find out). Have you forgiven someone in the past few weeks? Have you sought forgiveness? What happened?
We can make the distinction between physical disability and a broken personal character. However, we fail to connect the two in a public arena. How we treat others, especially those who in need of assistance, reflects our personal strength (or weakness). Forgiveness heals the spirit and empowers us to act compassionately. To proclaim forgiveness, like Jesus, is to make the Kingdom present. Let us do as Jesus did.
Pray for the power to forgive. Seek one person out and attempt reconciliation. You never know what may happen. You may glimpse the Kingdom.