Year B: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Comforted by Others
Four Friends who cared
Mark 2, 1-12
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”– he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
- In this passage friends break down barriers to get the paralyzed man to Jesus. Who in your life has brought you to the Lord? Did they have an easy job of it?
- Do you believe that Jesus forgives your sins? How do you deal with sin and forgiveness in your life?
- Is there any paralysis in your life that needs to be healed?
Mark 2, 1-12
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
Jesus has returned to Capernaum after spending some days in deserted places. On his return he is once again besieged by the crowd. Jesus does his best to “preach the word” to the people because preaching is his top priority. This is why he has come (see Mark 1:29). However, some of the people are more interested in Jesus’ ability to heal than in what Jesus is preaching. Some men, intent on getting a healing for a paralytic, lower the man through the roof so that he will be in Jesus’ presence.
As the story of the healing of the paralytic unfolds we can see that the story has a postresurrection point of view. Remember, Jesus performed mighty acts of power to demonstrate the truth of his message that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (see Mark 1:15). However, the early church told miracle stories to respond to the question, “Who is Jesus?” After the resurrection, in the light of the postresurrection appearances, Jesus’ disciples understood that Jesus is divine. The miracle stories were formed to teach this postresurrection understanding.
Mark addresses the question of Jesus’ identity by combining a miracle story with a story about Jesus having a controversy with the scribes. When the paralytic is lowered into Jesus’ presence, instead of giving him a physical healing Jesus gives him a spiritual healing: ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.” Mark tells us that the scribes immediately react to Jesus’ words: “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” These words are not spoken aloud to Jesus, but “Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves.” By telling the story this way, Mark has established a fact with which his audience would agree: Only God has the authority to forgive sin. He has also raised a question: Who is Jesus that he immediately knows what the scribes are thinking?
Jesus responds to the scribes with Socratic irony, that is, he responds by asking a question that appears to be off the topic. Jesus’ motive is not to obtain information but to cause his questioners to think. Jesus asks, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?” This question seems to be off the topic because the scribes are not questioning what Jesus can say. We can all say many things, true or untrue. The question is: Do Jesus’ words have any effect? If Jesus says to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” does that mean that his sins are actually forgiven? Now the question of Jesus’ identity obviously becomes central to the story. Jesus says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”—he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” Notice that Mark pictures Jesus referring to himself as “the Son of Man.” This will be a pattern in Mark’s Gospel that we will discuss further as it unfolds. For now, we will note that “Son of Man” is a messianic title and is the only messianic title that Jesus is pictured as using in reference to himself. It is an allusion to the Book of Daniel (see Dan 7:13-14), in which one like a son of man approaches God on God’s throne and is given authority over nations.
When Jesus tells the man to rise and go home, the man does just that. “He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone.” The story ends with the traditional ending for a miracle story, astonishment on the part of the crowd. However, the reader is also well aware that the story speaks to Jesus’ identity as much as it does to his power. If Jesus’ words of physical healing are effective, then his words of spiritual healing must also be effective and must mean that Jesus is divine.
Carrying Our Mats
The man crept into the back of the church. Early Sunday mass 8:00 a.m., last row, aisle seat. Barely in, quickly out if need be.
It was his habit since the divorce. He was afraid not to go to Mass— and he was afraid to go to Mass. So he snuck in and out. It was not that he was well known in this parish. When people looked at him, they would not be thinking, “Poor Don, what a messy divorce!” But he was thinking it. It was how he saw himself. In his head he was guilty, a major failure at matrimony—and at a young age! It was hard to handle. No matter how much they talked about forgiveness, there was very little room for matrimonial failure in the Catholic Church. The last row, aisle seat was a perfect place. It was where he belonged.
An old priest was saying Mass. He was soft spoken, but if you paid attention, he made you think. He preached that people could rise out of their sins, that the child of God is never completely paralyzed. “If you hear this truth,” he almost whispered, “you can walk.”
As usual, Don did not go to communion.
After communion a woman soloist sang a haunting rendition of Amazing Grace. Every “wretch that was saved” was moved.
Except one. Suddenly the old priest was on his feet and walking toward the congregation.
“I hate that song. I am not a wretch. You are not a wretch. The Gospel is right. You are a child of God. Perhaps momentarily paralyzed, but called to rise.”
Then the old priest began moving down the center aisle. “This is my recessional song,” he shouted.
He began to point to people in pew after pew. “You are a child of God. You are a child of God. And you.”
“Oh no!” thought Don, as the priest approached with his jabbing finger. “Oh no!”
“And you are a child of God” said the old priest in voice that was now quiet, not from exhaustion, but from the intuition the truth he was saying had nothing to do with loudness.
Last man, last row, aisle seat: “You are a child of God.”
Don tried but he could not stop the tears. After a while he even stopped trying. Everyone walked by him. Finally, he stood up, walked out, and went back home.
We tie knots to our failures so tight we can barely breathe. We know we have to untie those knots, but we do not know how. Sometimes we untie them slowly, patient as a sailor, knowing the sea waits once we loose the rope.
Other times it is a swift blow that frees us. An unlikely Jesus comes out of nowhere and wields the words of freedom. An old priest finds us hiding with our guilt in the last row and breaks through our self-hatred. We are “unparalyzed” and on our feet, striding out of the place we crept into, knowing that forgiveness and walking are the same thing.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.