05 December 2009

Let astonishment seize you. . .(2nd Sun of Advent 2007)

[NB.  This is a repost.  I am running up against a deadline for my thesis, so blogging will be very light until Wed, Dec 9th.] 

[NB.  This is not the homily for 2nd Sun of Advent but the Monday after 2nd Advent Sun.] 

2nd Week Advent (M): Isa 35.1-10 and Luke 5.17-26
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

In his 1944 existentialist play, No Exit, French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre declared, “Hell is other people.” On one of the last episodes of Angel, the main character, Angel, a vampire with a soul turned private detective, the one who dated Buffy on her show, acquires a magical ring that allows him to travel to Hell where he intends to confront Satan himself. In a not-so-Dantesque device, he rides a service elevator straight down to Hell itself. After a lengthy ride down, the doors open, our hero is poised to do battle with every kind of vile demon imaginable. Instead, when the doors open we see the exact same street scene we saw when our hero got in the elevator. Apparently, Hell is wherever you are and the demons we battle do not always live in That Special Place. One more: that wonderful Twilight Zone episode with Anthony Burgess.* Burgess plays an impatient, bespectacled misanthrope librarian who just wants to be left alone to read his books. War breaks out and he survives the destruction of mankind. He rejoices b/c, as the last man on Earth, he now has all the time he needs to read. While celebrating on the steps of the New York Public Library, he fall and breaks his only pair of glasses. Perhaps Hell is no other people.

Jesus teaches his disciples that there is a connection to be made between sin and sickness. He heals the paralyzed man by forgiving him his sins. This causes the persnickety Pharisees to fall all over themselves accusing him of blasphemy for daring to presume that he can forgive anyone’s sin. The point of the scene is to show us Christ’s healing power and to reinforce his claim that he is the Messiah. That’s evident. But what we might overlook is the small detail that makes this scene truly instructive. The paralyzed man is carried by his friends to the house where Jesus is teaching. Because they cannot reach him through the crowd, they climb over the crowd to the roof of the house and lower the man through the ceiling on a stretcher. The man’s friends lower him to rest directly in front of Christ as he preaches. Luke writes, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said [to the man] ‘As for you, your sins are forgiven.’” Did you catch that?

The genius of our faith is the bizarre religious notion we borrow from our Jewish ancestors that we are saved as a body and not as individuals—as a nation, a people, a tribe and not as Me Alone. We are in-corp-orated—that is, embodied—into the Body of Christ through baptism. We live out our spiritual lives by attending to the regularly celebrated public sacraments of the Church. Jesus heals the paralyzed man not because the man is particularly pious or holy or because he is a great benefactor of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus heals the man of his sin and sickness because of the faith of his friends! Their trust in God, their hope in the healing power of truth and mercy, their love of their friend moves Jesus to act.

Quite literally, the man’s friends “make straight the path of the Lord” and they walk that path straight to Jesus, carrying their paralyzed friend. So that the Pharisees might know that he is who he says he is, our Lord, says to the man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” And he does, thus letting us all, all flesh, all nations see the salvation of God. Sartre would have seen these men and their love for him as Hell. Angel would have walked into that house and observed a mundane image of the devil’s lair. Our librarian friend with the broken glasses would regret his impatience and long for someone to read to him. In their isolation and despair, these men would find their “definitive self-exclusion from the presence of God.”

We cannot come to Christ alone. We cannot baptize ourselves. Forgive our own sins. Nor can we bear witness to God’s healing power if we stand alone. Therefore, let astonishment seize you and glorify God to all flesh, all nations. Though you have seen incredible things up til now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

*As a Nitpicky Reader points out, the actor's name is Burgess Meredith.  Get a job, Subvet!  :-)


  1. Sorry to nitpick Father, it wasn't Anthony Burgess in that Twilight Zone episode it was Burgess Meredith.

    To the best of my recollection, Anthony Burgess was the author who wrote "A Clockwork Orange". The book was nowhere as bad as the movie.

  2. Nitpick! Nitpick! Nitpick! GEEZ!

    (But you're right...)