Healing the Paralytic
Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, August 1, 2021.
The first thing I would like to point out about today’s Gospel reading is that the paralytic we meet today is the very same paralytic that is lowered down from the rooftop in Mark chapter 2 – right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and in Luke chapter 7. Sometimes when we hear these readings, I feel like it can be a blur – who are we talking about here? Is this a different paralytic? No, it’s the very same one, but this telling is much more sparse.
The details are very spare compared to the other tellings. There is no roof breaking. The gospel simply states, “behold, they brought to Him a paralytic.” This rendering leaves out all the details, except that “Jesus saw their faith.” They (the friends of the paralytic) are anonymous, but Jesus saw their faith, and that was enough him to reach out and heal. This is significant, because we see the same pattern repeated again and again in the Gospels. But my theme today is to talk about toxic shame and the power of intercession.
When Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic, what exactly is He forgiving? We might wonder what his sins could have been, but I would like to venture a guess. I think Jesus was relieving him of the toxic shame of having to be carried everywhere and being seen as an invalid. At the time of Christ, disabilities were perceived as a sign of sin, so the disabled had to bear not only the pain of their disability but also the shame of responsibility for being disabled.
This man identified with his infirmity. That was his primary identity. He is a paralytic. But his paralysis was also a bitter fruit of his state of mind. So, when Jesus says, “Take heart my son (be of good cheer), your sins are forgiven,” he takes away his helpless shame by saying “I love you just as you are.” Jesus, the great healer, is more interested in reforming his identity as a beloved child of God rather than healing his physical infirmity. And when the paralytic realizes this, a huge burden is lifted from his shoulders, so much so that he is able to stand up, take up his pallet, and go home, healed.
Now, I want to point out the difference between toxic shame and healing shame. If toxic shame leads to sense of worthlessness and destructive, disabling self-hatred, healthy, healing shame which leads to humility is totally different. Healthy shame, which is often denoted in our bodies by blushing – when we know we are wrong – can lead to self-awareness and a desire to change. This is the meaning of repentance – to turn from our ways, and live! When shame is sanctified as it is here in today’s Gospel reading, it has a saving purpose. As my friend Christine Gindi said, “Instead of hiding our broken pieces from ourselves and from God, we invite Him in to heal us.” This is what happens at the sacrament of confession. We find the courage to hide no longer, but to turn and to live.
The paralytic obviously lived with toxic shame, identifying with his worthlessness. This is the case of so many healings in the New Testament from the woman with the flow of blood or the divorced Samaritan Woman or the man born blind or the cripple who could not get to the healing waters at the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. Some had the courage to call out for help, but many were healed by the faith of their friends like Jairus’ daughter or the Centurion’s servant, or today’s healing, all who were healed through the faith of their friends. Think about that for a second – you yourself can bring about the healing of your friends and loved ones through your own prayers and faith. Jesus demonstrates again and again the power of intercession which is given to us.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Simone Biles this week. She entered the Olympic Arena as the “Greatest of All Time” and suffered nitpicking criticism for every step she took. When she decided that her “head was not in the right place,” she endured accusations that she was no patriot and that she was an embarrassment. How quickly we dispose of the gods we create. But how does her story relate to the paralytic? Many of you may have watched her carry the disabling weight of our expectations, and how she was able to stand with courage, and say no to all of that. Ms. Biles realized that her worth is not determined by her performance. Her ability to move or not move has nothing to do with the love that God is pouring down on her. Think of the words that Jesus said to the paralytic, applied to her, “Take heart, my daughter, be of good cheer!” Or I love you just as you are.
There is a mystery here, because when we realize that we are loved just as we are in our infirmities, a door opens for us to become better and more like Christ.
Jesus says, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, rise, take up your bed and walk.” We see Jesus’ authority and his power as he addresses the scribes with chastisement and the paralytic with gentle care. When Jesus knowing the thoughts of the scribes, asks, “Which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’, he demonstrates that his power to heal is a sign of God’s authority. When the crowds see this, they are afraid, they marvel, and they glorify God. So, this healing and many others not only establishes Jesus’ authority, but challenges the authority of the scribes and the Pharisees early in his ministry. And we who follow him can also intercede and proclaim forgiveness.
So clearly, we can see that Jesus does not define us by our achievements or by our disabilities, whether we are a famous athlete or a paralyzed person. Instead, when are broken down, this becomes an opportunity for us to invite God in for healing, and our faith can bring hope to ourselves and to our friends through God the Father who is always loving us, God the Son who speaks the healing word, and the Holy Spirit is who is continually spreading love everywhere in the world. Thanks be to God.