SECOND MONDAY OF ADVENT
SCRIPTURE: LUKE 5:17-26
One day as Jesus was teaching,
Pharisees and teachers of the law,
who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,
were sitting there,
and the power of the Lord was with him for healing.
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence.
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
"As for you, your sins are forgiven."
Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves,
"Who is this who speaks blasphemies?
Who but God alone can forgive sins?"
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,
"What are you thinking in your hearts?
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 said to the one who was paralyzed,
"I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home."
He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God.
Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
"We have seen incredible things today."
There is a tension that exists in today’s Gospel that is laid out in the first paragraph. In this passage Luke identifies three groups who participate in this story. First there are the teachers of the law; second there is Jesus who is under the influence of healing power of the Spirit and the people who are desperately trying to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing. As the story unfolds Jesus tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. The teachers of the law are indignant and ironically ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?” As readers of the Gospel, we know that Jesus is God. By making his readers insiders, Luke highlights the blindness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Their strict interpretation to the law was so strong that they are unable to experience the presence of God that is standing in their midst. A miracle is occurring at that moment and they are missing it.
For the Pharisees the law is the way to know God. The law is God’s command and is part of the covenant. It brings the values, virtues, order and morality to society. A person who follows the law is faithful and in good standing with God. They also believed that physical illness was the result of sin. It would not be out of the realm of possibility that they would have viewed the paralytic as getting what was due him because of his own sin or that of a relative. This underscores how radical and challenging the actions of Jesus would have been. He broke the law by offering forgiveness, to someone who did not deserve it, and since only God can forgive sins, this was the equivalent of claiming he was God. It was a scandalous moment. It was also a moment that God was present in an unexpected and miraculous way. When Jesus is accused of being blasphemous for forgiving sins, he takes it further. He heals the paralytic stating that he is doing so to show them that the, “Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” All depart glorifying God.
This past weekend there was a workshop at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry about ministering to young people who have experienced trauma. Trauma was defined as a verbal, emotional or physical abuse that is witnessed or personally experienced that exposes the individual to prolonged stress. It also has a lasting impact. Some examples of trauma are divorce, death, depression, anxiety, abuse, gun violence, or addiction. Based on this list it would seem as though most of the population are victims of trauma. One participant remarked if you are alive you have experienced trauma. The reality is we live in a broken world that is in desperate need of the forgiveness and healing of Jesus. Pope Francis spoke about the Church needing to see itself as a field hospital whose mission is to be on the battle field and heal people of the wounds, they experience daily. The truth is when our wounds are not tended to, they fester and often become the fodder for us wounding ourselves or others. A cycle of hurt and trauma can only be broken by Jesus healing and forgiveness.
Jesus’ response is the most important element in this story. When confronted by the Pharisees Jesus does not back down. Instead he reminds us that the path to God is through healing, forgiveness, love and compassion. His love exposes how they have missed the presence of God and it changes them, as Luke states that all depart, “glorifying God.” His forgiveness is redemptive and offered to us in unexpected ways. Sometimes our own faith and suppositions about how God operates are the reasons we miss God’s presence. The Bible is full of stories that should cause us to be alert and awake. One consistent characteristic about God is surprise. Just when we think we have it figured out we see how blind we were. This reality should cause us to be humble. Humility and openness will prevent us from choosing judgments and law over healing and forgiveness.
What is the pain or hurt for which you need healing?
Who do you know who has experienced trauma for whom you might be a source of healing and forgiveness? What might you do to bring healing? What might prevent you from following through?
What assumptions about God prevent you from being open?
How do you reconcile when the law and healing seem at odds?
Joe Nettesheim is the Founder/Director of 12plus1. He has served as a pastoral minister since 1991. He and his wife Maribeth have a blended family of five kids, three son-in-laws, six grand-kids and a Golden Doodle who is a big, love-able oaf.