The readings for this Sunday are: Isaiah 43:18-19, 20-22, 24-25; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12
Healing stories in the Gospels are never simply a reversal of physical misfortune. God works through miracles, through political forces, social action, intrigue, personal and societal chaos and daily, ordinary living to pick us up from where we have fallen and redirect us along right pathways. Many aspects of Jesus’ early ministry in Mark’s Gospel are woven together in today’s colourful story of the healing of the paralytic man. The story ends a whole series of healing miracles that began and ended in Capernaum (1:21-2:12). For reasons unknown, Mark tells us that Jesus had relocated his ministry to this fishing village on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was from there that Jesus called five of the disciples.
Today’s story (Mark 2:1-12) makes explicit what has been implied in preceding weeks: In healing the sick and casting out demons, Jesus is manifesting God’s forgiveness of his people’s sins. Sin is often equated with sickness in Scripture (see Psalm 103:3). And today’s Psalm (41) reads like a foretelling of the Gospel scene – the man is helped on his sickbed, healed of his sins, and made able to stand before the Lord forever.
The Via Maris, a major highway, ran through Capernaum from the seacoast to Damascus and on to the east. Yet it was far enough away from Tiberias, the new, predominantly Gentile city where in 25 A.D. Herod Antipas had set up his capital. Capernaum also had a mixed population of fisher-men, farmers, skilled artisans, merchants, tax collectors, etc. It is always important to recall that Jesus established the base of his ministry, not in some remote, back woods area, nor in sleepy Nazareth, but here in a very “cosmopolitan” town that was located at an important geographical, cultural and religious crossroads.
This strategic location also gave Jesus access to nearby villages and to the hill country to the north and west where he could carry on his ministry among receptive listeners without too much interference from political and religious authorities. This gives us an important insight into the identity and mission of Jesus.
I can just imagine Jesus seated under the roof of this small house in Capernaum. The crowd gathered around him was so great that no one could approach him. Two of a group of four men had chutzpah! They were persistent, bold and creative and decided that there were other ways to reach Jesus.
They climbed up on the roof and removed the tiles. Another stood on the ground receiving the tiles passed down from above. He made sure that the tiles would not be broken or stolen! After the whole event, he probably saw to it that the tiles were put back in place, appeasing some of the upset of the owner and neighbours after all that commotion! The fourth man stood beside their paralyzed and dazed friend, as he lay on his stretcher. This poor man, accustomed to immobility, was now filled with fear and frustration, yet deep down inside he could finally taste hope.
When Jesus was interrupted in his teaching by the abrupt intrusion from above, he saw first hand the faith of the paralyzed man’s friends. Verse 10 of Mark’s story goes to the heart of this moving Gospel account: “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
When the man walked away cured of his illness, everyone was amazed. With the eyes of faith, the paralytic and his friends can see what the scribes cannot – Jesus’ divine identity. The scribes, experts in the Jewish law, were appalled at what they regarded as pure blasphemy. They knew that God alone forgives sins. Jesus appears to be claiming equality with God. Today’s story turns on this recognition. The scene marks the first time in the Gospels that Jesus commends the faith of a person or persons who come to him (see Matthew 9:2; Luke 5:20). Mark relates today’s incident to further his theme that Jesus only very gradually revealed who he really was: the Messiah or the Christ, the Son of God.
Health care debate
Finally, let us try to apply the Gospel stories of healing and health of the past weeks to our present situations of healing and public health care in many parts of the world. I am thinking especially of the role of the Church in issues of the availability of health care for all people. There are some who say that the Church and her ministers have nothing to say about the matter! Any Church leader who dares speak out is simply written off as “one clad in the armour of religious righteousness,” or a foolish person who “condemns capitalism and adopts the posture of socialism.” There are those who reduce the health care crisis to a simple matter of socialism vs. capitalism in a free market, wealthy society, such as ours in Canada.
Churches do indeed have something to add to this debate. The Catholic Church has been a health care provider since her earliest years, and knows something about caring for large numbers of the sick and dying. It is a major part of her raison d’être.
One of the risks of privatized health care systems, if not very carefully managed and supervised, would result in a much higher quality of medical care for those who could afford to pay for it, and a much lower level of care to those who are simply unable to afford it. While the “front of the line” syndrome may be a bonus in certain circumstances, when it comes to health care, it can cause havoc and great injustice in societies around the world.
Let us recall the words of Blessed John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical letter Centesimus Annus, written on the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum (a major Church teaching on cap- ital and labor by Pope Leo XIII): “In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing.” Is this not the crux of the current economic crisis in the world today?
Authentic health care is that which springs from a communal vision, one that is concerned with the health and well being of individuals, societies and entire populations. Such a model respects the human dignity of the individual as well as fostering a sense of community and trust. This model flows from a Christian, biblical and universal vision that is totally committed to the sacred dignity of human life, from the earliest moments to the final moments, from womb to tomb. The Church must continue to be a strong, clear voice for healing, health and life in the contemporary world. It is our mission and vocation that finds its roots in the healing ministry of Jesus.
Do we share the paralytic man’s faith in today’s Gospel? Do we have the chutzpah, creativity, perseverance and persistence of his friends to bring someone to Christ? To what lengths are we willing to go to encounter Jesus? How much are we willing to sacrifice so that our friends, too, might hear his saving word and experience the Lord’s healing touch and presence?
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2008 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B is now available in book form. You can order your copy of “Words Made Flesh: Volume 2, Year B” from the website of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Publications Service, or from the Salt + Light online store.