In Capernaum, crowds around Jesus got so large that a paralytic’s friends resorted to novelty to get His attention. Why did Jesus use this moment to reveal His identity in an astonishing way?
Gospel (Read Mk 2:1-12)
St. Mark makes clear that Jesus’ public ministry of teaching, healing, and exorcising demons drew enormous crowds. Today, we read about the obstacle this presented to four men who were attempting to get their paralyzed friend, lying on a mat, before Jesus. Not being able to penetrate the crowd, they decided to go up on the roof (houses in that day had flat roofs, accessible by stairs in the back), remove a section of it, and lower their friend down in front of Jesus. Nobody could ignore an event like that.
We have to wonder if the paralytic and his friends were surprised by Jesus’ response. Surely they were hoping the man’s paralysis would be healed. Yet, when Jesus watched this drama unfold, He said instead, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” This created quite a buzz, which, in turn, brought forth another miracle. About some scribes in attendance, St. Mark tells us, “Jesus immediately knew in His mind what they were thinking to themselves.” So, He not only forgave a man’s sins, but He also exposed the secret, silent thoughts of His critics. That, in turn, brought forth a third miracle. In order to prove to everyone that He had the Divine power to forgive sins, Jesus said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” The man was instantly healed, and “all were astounded and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’” In last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard Jesus strictly warn a leper He had healed to keep quiet about it. Here, in front of a huge crowd, Jesus claims the prerogative of God to forgive sins, reads hearts as only God can do, and dramatically heals a paralyzed man. What brought all this on?
Imagine the action of the men on the roof from the perspective of Jesus. Their love for their friend, frozen in immobility and unable to do anything for himself, did not allow the impossibility of getting close to Jesus stop them. In their single-minded focus on Him and His ability to help their friend, they must have relentlessly examined all their options. They kept their eyes on Jesus, not the crowd, examining every possible angle of approach. Finally, they saw it. Even though getting the mat up on the roof with a body on it and then cutting a hole to get the mat down (what would the homeowner say?) was going to be hard work, they were undeterred. They had both the faith and perseverance to see their plan through to the end. When Jesus saw the combined effort of faith, hope, and love in these men, did He see in them a picture of Israel’s true vocation? God had called His people to be His holy nation, a kingdom of priests who would proclaim His Name to all peoples and bring them to Him for the healing of their sin—just what these men were doing. Did He see in the man lying on the mat a foreshadowing of His own helplessness on the Cross, nailed hands and feet, unable to move, and yet, by that very weakness, offering satisfaction for sin, and thus its healing? Did Jesus see in the friends a picture of the Church He would establish through His friends, the apostles, always focused on Him and working tirelessly to pray for and serve sinners who are frozen in their sin and helplessness? Whatever He saw in this startling display, it moved Him so deeply that He chose it as an occasion to make a profound revelation of Himself. He made it clear to one and all that His real mission was to heal us of our sin. As God Incarnate, He had authority to do this, which He proved in the physical healing, as well as by reading the thoughts of the scribes. The invisible act of Divine forgiveness of sin was confirmed by the visible act of restoration of movement to the paralytic. Jesus, stirred by the action of the men, got right to the core of what God sent Him to do.