One day as Jesus was teaching,
Pharisees and teachers of the law,
who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,
were sitting there,
and the power of the Lord was with him for healing.
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence.
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.”
Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves,—Luke 5:17-26
“Who is this who speaks blasphemies?
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,
“What are you thinking in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God.
Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
“We have seen incredible things today.”
Friends, in today’s Gospel we are given the story of the healing of the paralytic. In my previous reflection on the healing of the blind man (based on Luke 18:35–43), I pointed to the blind man having faith in Christ despite being literally blind. He could not see Christ raising Lazarus, could not see Christ turning water into wine, couldn’t even see Christ multiplying loaves of bread. However, despite this, in his heart of hearts, he believed in Christ and the miracles He could accomplish. He had faith, despite being literally blind. How many of us could say the same and remain firm in the faith despite being able to literally see what Christ has done in our lives? Do we have the faith of the blind man? The majority of us are not blind, yet we often struggle in our faith. The blind man gambled [correctly] the Lord would see him and heal him only if he asked, and He did. In contrast, the men around him rebuked him and “asked him to be silent.” The Lord healed him anyway, stunning those who rebuked this man’s faith.
I say this here because there are similar elements in the narrative of today’s Gospel. Once again, faith inevitably triumphs. This time it involves a paralytic and the Pharisees.
Consider several things. The Pharisees saw Christ cure the sick. However, despite all this, it could be said they were literally blind. They could see with their own eyes that Christ and God the Father were “one.” They refused to entertain the idea the messiah was in front of them and walking the earth “to fulfill the law.” Can you imagine what it would be like to walk among Jesus? Think at this point how it would be if you were a parent. You remind your child to not touch the stove when the gas is on. Why? Because it’s hot and your child will burn their hand. DUH. However, they don’t listen. I can’t fathom how God the Father must have thought at seeing the Pharisees being so obstinate. “THE EVIDENCE IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!” anyone would exclaim. For those who are parents, how many times have you had to scold your child time after time, often for the same thing? Do we not go to confession often for the exact same sin, time and time again, seeking absolution? Does the priest yell at you? No. Mind you, I do not have the patience of a priest. (I’m trying, God!)
However, this doesn’t happen. Instead, example after example does nothing to sway the hearts and minds of the Pharisees. Miracle after miracle changes nothing. Historically, disease, for the Pharisees at least, was a sign of sin. So what does Jesus do? He does something so decisive that there can longer be any unbelief. However, the Pharisees are too wrapped up in their own plans and their own honor to ascertain God’s mercy when Christ heals the paralytic. The Pharisees simply say, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?” They don’t marvel at the Lord’s grandeur, they simply question. Instead of marveling at what had just taken place, the Pharisees still doubt. Let’s say I ask Christ tomorrow to win the lottery. However, instead of winning one million dollars, I only win ten thousand dollars. How obstinate and ungrateful would I be if I instead said, “meh.” It’d be something else, right? How often do we want God to give us a sign so we can follow His plan? And how often are we not open to what He tells us, simply and directly because we’re too focused on achieving our own plans? Similar to my last reflection, there is also a similar element of “rebuke” that also takes place here.
Remember when I referred to my last reflection in regards to the blind man’s faith? We should all be similarly impressed with the faith of the paralytic. Think about it—neither the blind man nor the paralytic needed any signs. They simply believed and knew Christ would help them. The paralytic’s faith in Him was so strong, it overcame literal adversity. If he couldn’t walk, he’d ask others to carry him to Christ. I’m reminded of that brilliant moment of friendship near the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins, physically and mentally exhausted carrying the One Ring, tells his friend Samwise Gamgee he cannot walk any longer. He’s exhausted, he’s battered, he looks absolutely defeated. If Frodo does not throw the One Ring into Mount Doom, evil will triumph. Now imagine the paralytic: “And some men brought on a stretcher a man.” He could not physically walk to Christ. Here, Samwise Gamgee takes the initiative, “Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you…but I can carry you!” (Cue the manly tears.) (Yes, I know I am quoting the film and not the book.)
The paralytic’s faith moved him so much it didn’t matter. If he couldn’t walk, he would make sure he saw Christ. It didn’t matter to his friends if the paralytic couldn’t walk, either—they brought him in through the roof just to make sure Christ saw him. Theirs was a living faith. It was so strong, it moved him and them into action. Their living faith was far stronger than the durability of a Thomistic argument. What have you done to seek Christ face to face today? What do we do when we don’t measure up to the faith of the paralytic? What have we done in order to make sure we receive His grace?
In the midst of all this, remember that we too are the Body of Christ. The paralytic struggled physically to see Christ, so his friends helped him. Oftentimes, in moments when we can obsess over clericalism or scruples over which form of the Mass is better, remember that our mission—as established in the great commission Christ professed—is to bring others to Heaven. There are many Catholics at this time who may, because of the pandemic or economic reasons, feel unable to move, frozen. Do we help bring those individuals to Christ as the paralytic’s friends did?
Now mind you, there is a little more to this. Everyone glorified God after the miracle was done. Christ only sought God’s glory when He healed the paralytic. I only say this because how often do we seek gratitude in doing an act of charity or a favor for a friend? Instead of desiring the “thank you,” do we instead remember we are here on this Earth to glorify God? Oftentimes, we should also remember to purify our own intentions and make sure the reasons we do certain things are for the right reasons.
Now that we are in the season of Advent, let us not forget the reason for the season. We are awaiting the celebration of the birth of Christ. Oftentimes, Advent is called a season of waiting. But are you going to Him, instead of waiting for signs as the Pharisees did?