As we’ve heard before, illness and infirmity of any kind were seen as a punishment for one’s sins. We can imagine that the paralytic in the gospel, his family and the very friends who dug through the roof and lowered him to Jesus, were probably convinced that at some time in his life he offended God in a serious way and that’s why he suffered as he did. We can imagine that he was so ashamed at what he did he was convinced God would never forgive him. His life sentence of paralysis was proof of it. No matter how many times he read or heard those loving words of Isaiah ‘though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow, though they be red as crimson, they shall be like wool’, no matter how many times he heard the story of God’s mercy and forgiveness toward King David after his great crimes of adultery and murder, this poor man, as paralyzed in his spirit as he was in his body, could not move toward the healing power of God.
He is like so many of us who cannot imagine or trust in the mercy of God. He is like so many of us who project unto God our own inability to forgive and be at peace with those who offended us. He is like so many of us who think God is as stingy with love and hard hearted in forgiveness as we are. He is like so many of us plagued with memories of past sins he can’t trust the truth that when it comes to our sins, we are weighed down with memories but God has amnesia. Paralyzed by guilt and shame he cannot move toward the love and mercy of God.
Jesus see the paralysis in this man’s soul, He reaches out to him and tells him “Child, frightened child, desperate child, your sins are forgiven.” With these gracious words Jesus breaks through this man’s roof, his barrier to an encounter with God’s grace and mercy.
To answer those scandalized by His words and their complaint that only God can forgive sins Jesus shocks them even more saying to this man still paralyzed in body “get up take up your mat and walk.” Free to move the man gets up, picks up his mat and walks out accompanied by those who carried him to Christ. He leaves behind people filled with amazement, people who had never seen anything like this.
Which is easier to say – which is easier to hear, which is easier to believe – your sins are forgiven or take up your mat and go home. That’s the question for all of us today. It is one thing to unbind a body it is another thing to liberate a soul. If we are paralyzed in spirit, unable to move beyond feelings of guilt and shame, or if we are paralyzed by an unwillingness to move beyond hurt and resentment and forgive those who wronged us, we need the Christ to break through our roofs, our barriers that block out the healing touch of Christ.
Each of us can experience the freedom granted the paralyzed man when, in a moment of quiet prayer we face our faults and failings, face the wrong we’ve done to others, no matter what they may be and ask for God forgiveness. Each of us can experience the pardon and peace of Christ when we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. Not as we experienced it in the past, a routine rattling off of peccadilloes, routine that brought us to giving up on this sacrament, but a soul searching admittance of some great wrong or injustice we may have done to another. The coming season of Lent has always been that special time to look into the way we live our lives, the way we relate to God and to others and admit the wrongs we’ve done, those rare times we’ve said a definite no to God and through this sacrament of reconciliation come to know pardon and peace.
Maybe we could be blessed with the spirit of St. Paul, who never suffered from spiritual paralysis. He never forgot how he deeply offended Christ by his persecution of the Church and yet he would say, “One thing I do, I forget what is behind and I strive on to what is ahead and I go with confidence to the throne of grace and forgiveness.”
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist we can pray for ourselves that we do not let fear or shame or anger and resentment paralyze us. May each of us find it easy to hear and believe those wonderful words of Christ ‘your sins are forgiven’ whether in the quiet of our prayer or in the sacrament of reconciliation.