2nd Week of Advent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Ss. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
A paralyzed man is brought to Jesus for healing. The man's friends, unable to get through the crowd surrounding Jesus, lower him from the roof through the ceiling. Seeing an opportunity to not only reconcile a sinner to God but to teach the Pharisees a lesson, Jesus does what no one but God Himself can do: he forgives the poor man's sins. Predictably, the Pharisees start murmuring among themselves and quietly accusing Jesus of blasphemy. In answer to these accusations, Jesus says to the man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” And he does. Just like that. His sins are forgiven and his disability is healed. Luke reports that those who witness this miracle are seized with astonishment and glorify God, saying, “We have seen incredible things today.” Now, this event may not seem so incredible to us b/c we've been reading about it for some 2,000 years. That Jesus healed the sick as part of his ministry is hardly astonishing to us. That sin is part and parcel of physical illness is not really all that shocking anymore either. What might get missed in the telling of this miraculous story is the fact that Jesus forgives the man's sin not b/c the man himself has faith sufficient to justify absolution but b/c the man's friends show their faith in the authority of the Son of Man to forgive. When Jesus sees the faith of the man's friends, he says, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”
While we are focused on the miraculous healing and the public rebuke of the Pharisees' disbelief, we might miss one of the more theologically significant points in this story: forgiveness of sins can be obtained by someone other than the one forgiven. Unlike the blind man who was healed when he professed his faith in the Lordship of Christ, the paralyzed man never utters a word. We have no indication of his faith, no way of knowing whether or not he believed that Jesus was capable of restoring his legs to good use. All we know is that his friends believed and their belief was strong enough to compel them to go to great lengths to get their disabled friend in front of Jesus. For all we know, the disabled man did not believe. He have may even been actively disbelieving! It makes no difference. Jesus heals him because—that is, in virtue of—the astonishing faith of those who love him.
This miracle tells us a lot about the nature of faith and the power of intercessory prayer. First, faith is contagious. Its benefits are not immediately limited to believers alone. Second, interceding on behalf of a loved one, even an unbelieving loved one, can work miracles. Third, the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins extends over all, believers, non-believers, and those who actively disbelieve. And finally, knowing all of this to be true, those of us who follow Christ are charged with putting our faith to work for those who do not believe. Knowing that our faith can merit the forgiveness of another person's sins, how can we fail to intercede on their behalf? How can we fail to share the fruits of the faith we ourselves have been given?
Who in your life is paralyzed by sin? Who needs the healing touch of Christ's forgiveness? Use your faith to intercede for them. Lower them through the ceiling to rest in front of Christ and allow those whom you love to be infected by your divine gift of trusting in God. Christ will see them, and because of you, they will be healed.
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