The scribes were trussed that Jesus seemed to mash up healing and forgiveness. Of course, they were also in a religious and cultural tradition that insisted that God punished the sinful with misfortune and disease and disaster. From our Christian perspective, it’s easy enough for us to snicker at those silly scribes for confusing someone’s need for healing with the need for forgiveness.
Anyway, here’s the healing of the paralytic:
After entering a boat, Jesus made the crossing, and came into his own town.
And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”
At that, some of the scribes said to themselves,
“This man is blaspheming.”
Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said,
“Why do you harbor evil thoughts?
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 then said to the paralytic,
“Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
He rose and went home.
When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe
and glorified God who had given such authority to (human beings).
In chapters 8 and 9 of his Gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as triumphant over many things. In chapter 8, over various diseases and maladies. With the start of chapter 9 Jesus demonstrates his power over sin. So we’re getting into serious stuff. It’s one thing for Jesus to be able to brush aside things like leprosy and blindness. But sin? Who can forgive sin, but God?
The Christian benefits from the perspective of history and, we hope, the belief that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, and that he can indeed forgive our sins. Otherwise, why would we bother going to him with the expectation of forgiveness?
So … how does this reading work liturgically? Form II definitely, when a preacher can preach it well. I think Lent, but also an ordinary time event–like a retreat. Or an ordinary time celebration of the Sacrament of Penance.
I also think this rich passage lends itself well to the Ignatian method of praying with our imagination. We picture ourselves in the story. Jesus intercedes in our life. We hear his invitation to take courage. Why would he say that? Haven’t we approached him for healing or forgiveness? Why do we need not to be afraid? Change of life? Change in expectations?Only we can answer that in the context of our own prayer lives.
Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.
What a dramatic … command. It is a command, a loving order given to someone who is waiting for such a freedom. And aligning with Jesus Christ, placing ourselves under his lordship and command, is indeed a freedom in comparison with the long, unjust expectations of ourselves and the naysaying “scribes” in our lives. At which point, we accept the experience of forgiveness, and move toward “home.”