Captivated by the Corporeal

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 him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2:3-5

[At the time of this writing] I’ve spent the past 10 days quarantined due to a positive COVID test. Aside from one rough evening, I felt pretty good overall—the usual post-holiday fatigue and January congestion. But it doesn’t take much. When sick or injured, I am a pretty poor patient. I never manage to suffer in silence for long, and I tend to put everything on hold until I feel better. The weaker my flesh, the less willing my spirit.

Mark’s gospel shares the account of four friends who bring a paralytic to Jesus. Unable to get close to him on the ground due to the crowds, they climb to the roof, open up the thatching, and lower the paralyzed man on his mat before Jesus. The Lord sees the man in his plight. He sees the great faith of the man’s friends. So what does He do?

Jesus forgives the paralyzed man’s sins.

Think about that for a moment. From the crowd’s point of view: They have gathered around Jesus with great expectations. They are listening to His teachings, but they have heard He is a wonderworker. No doubt they were holding their breath in expectation of a miracle for the paralyzed man. From the standpoint of the four friends: Can there be any doubt that their hope for their friend was physical healing? And from the paralytic’s point of view: Even if he was a devout man, I’ll bet there was a twinge of disappointment when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” rather than, “Rise and walk.”

And if Jesus is seeking more followers, this isn’t the best approach, either. His words to the paralyzed man scandalized the scribes and likely confused the onlookers. We quite naturally prefer miracles we can see, and spiritual healing can be difficult to discern from the outside.

Jesus knows what these people came for, and ultimately, He gives them what they seek: the paralyzed man is healed to the amazement of all. It is easy, in the face of such a miracle, to overlook the initial, bigger gift: the forgiveness of the man’s sins. The physical healing, however miraculous, is temporary—age and death still await the man in this world. But the Lord’s mercy resonates in this world and the next. It’s a call to resurrection and eternity in heaven for those who receive it.

We are captivated by the corporeal, and the needs and desires of our bodies often trump our spiritual well-being. That is why Christ does the unexpected in the face of the scribes, the crowd, and paralyzed man. He knows what we need better than we do. Jesus’ spiritual healing of the paralytic is the more important of the two wonders He worked that day, because it’s the healing that lasts. His mercy is the miracle that brings us home to our heavenly Father.

This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, January 23, 2022, edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

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