The story of the paralytic lowered through the roof always fascinates children. They love the element of naughtiness that goes with the story. They imagine the shock and disbelief as the men smash a hole in the roof, showering everybody with debris. Perhaps children have it right, because this story (Mk. 2.1-12) is full of surprises.
The drama of the roof is the first surprise. The second comes with the words of Jesus. The man wants to be healed from a terrible paralysis. Yet Jesus offers him forgiveness of sins. We find ourselves taken aback, and perhaps a little shocked at this. Why should Jesus offer forgiveness when healing was requested? Perhaps the man,s paralysis was the result of some terrible physical illness. Or perhaps it came from neurosis, for example from depression or guilt, for these things can literally paralyse a person. Either way, the forgiveness that Jesus offered gave the man what he needed. In our own day we are aware how body, mind and spirit interact. The man needed a word of hope, something that would cut through his misery and give him something to cling to. Jesus spoke a freeing word. Not only in the forgiveness, but in the challenge to take his bedding and go. This challenge tells the man that Jesus believes he has the inner resources to do this. Jesus believes that the paralytic can summon the energy that is necessary, banish doubts, and stand up in front of all these sceptical people. Jesus gives a challenge, and the man rises to it. The affirmation offered by Jesus has set him free.
Affirmation is one of the most wonderful things in life. Parents regularly encourage their children, giving them self-confidence to believe that they can succeed. The best teachers are experts at affirmation, encouraging their students. In the work place, too, affirmation can be crucial: being helped to discover your capabilities is so important. And here in the gospel we have Jesus as the supreme affirmation from God. Jesus tells us that God believes in us, loves us, is for us, and will forgive our sins so that a fresh start is possible. And so this paralytic man hears Jesus not only set him free from sin, but tell him literally to pick himself up. No wonder St Paul wrote the lyrical words we hear today from 2 Corinthians 1.18-22: 'The Son of God was never Yes and No: with him was always Yes.' There is no affirmation greater than this: God is with us, and has set his healing power among us, in and through Christ.
The religious experts responded to the healing by citing the law. Their instincts were surely correct and they acted from good intent. Only God can forgive sins. This startling event pointed to the true nature of Jesus. It was difficult for the scribes to see what God was doing in front of their very eyes. Before we criticise them for this, perhaps we should wonder how many times God has shown himself in our midst and we have failed to notice.
Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Brook Green, London W6.