“Tell me a story.” Have you ever wondered how often some children ask this? This post offers one easy to visualize in our mind’s eye.
We might get lost in any number of details: the huge crowds, the audacity of breaking through a roof to get access, the conflict with the scribes, Jesus’ dramatic order to the paralyzed man.
For the ill person, I think it’s beneficial to focus on the aspect of faith. A caution, though: a lack of healing, or even a lack of peace about one’s illness does not signify a lack of faith.
As we read in the gospels, Jesus responds to the faith of the person who asks him for healing. Here, it is a bit different. The gospel doesn’t deny the paralyzed man has no faith. But he has his own support system who takes initiative.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together
so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic
carried by four men.
It could be just the four men mentioned here. But there’s a hint the man’s community may be wider than just those carrying him. “Many gathered” not just to hear the Lord, but also to petition on behalf of the paralyzed one. For the aspect of healing, there’s a metaphor at work:
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.
We do find ourselves beset by obstacles in our quest for health: a poor or tardy diagnosis, recalcitrant insurance companies, a long wait for care. Sometimes the blockade is self-inflicted: a secondary condition that must be resolved (like losing weight before a knee replacement can be effective), or even our own denial that anything’s wrong.
It’s not just the confidence of the handicapped man, but also his companions; notice here that Jesus sees “their” faith:
When Jesus saw their faith,
he said to the paralytic,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Catholics have long seen the close relationship between healing and forgiveness. It’s not that sin causes malady. Outside of natural consequences for careless or errant acts.
The disloyal opposition assembles itself:
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way?
He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
And Jesus is prepared for a dramatic rejoinder:
Jesus immediately knew in his mind
what they were thinking to themselves, so he said,
“Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say,
‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”—
he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded and glorified God, saying,
“We have never seen anything like this.”
Skeptics might well ask a believer: why do you trust Jesus? The only people who can help you are doctors, pharmacists, and other caregivers. Most Christians aren’t radical enough to put all their hopes on a supernatural healing. Most will accept a medical intervention to relieve and heal the maladies of mortality.
The Christian looks beyond. We know that illness is not just a flaw in the human design. We are made for union with God. We were created this way. We also admit that physical problems intrude on the non-physical aspects. Pain leads to grumpiness. A change in abilities might link to anger. The nearness of death might inspire fear. If our emotional life is to often tied up with the body, all the more might disease or injury impact our spiritual life.
This is a simple reason why Anointing of the Sick is distinct from faith healing. The Church doesn’t deny the possibility of healing by faith. More frequent is the need for healing of the soul. And not just the individual caught up in distress, but also the loved ones and friends of the suffering person.
This reading might work well in a communal setting of Anointing of the Sick, either in the parish or with a small group in a home, hospital room, or care center. There the story of healing and redemption can be told and shared in a wider circle.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago. The painting is by the late 19th century artist James Tissot.