The story of the healing of the paralytic occurs in the gospel of Matthew. There is a parallel account in the gospels of Mark and Luke. Matthew has heavily edited his rendition and omitted the spectacular arrival of the paralytic man through the roof. (A bit of a mess really). What the man and his friends want is freedom from paralysis. But Jesus goes straight to the deeper problem: he forgives the man his sins.

For us in this time of the Covid 19 pandemic, we might wonder why Jesus does not simply work a miracle and suppress the virus and cure all victims. To answer such a question we must explore how Jesus proclaimed the reign of God by bringing health and life to individuals and the whole society.

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Every culture experiences sickness in a different way. Sickness is not only a biological condition. It is also an experience that one interprets, lives and suffers within the cultural framework of one’s society. The sick whom Jesus met suffered the afflictions one would expect in in a poor underdeveloped country. There were blind, paralytic, deaf mutes, people with skin diseases and the mentally ill. Many were incurable, abandoned, without a livelihood. They hobbled through life as beggars. Jesus saw them by the roadside, at the village entrance, or in the synagogue pleading for pity – what they all yearned for was not only a cure for their affliction, but to be able to enjoy life as others did. In the villages Jesus visited people saw illness as a punishment from God for sin; healing was a blessing from God.

In the midst of this world where there were no professional physicians Jesus was renowned as a healer and an exorcist. Whence came his curative power? He gave the sick a new relationship with God which helped them live with new dignity. All this was part of his proclamation of the kingdom of God. This was how he proclaimed the good news: God is arriving.

The healings were signs of a new world; the world that God wants for everyone. Therefore in his dispute with the pharisees it is quite unsurprising that Jesus offered to cure the paralytic man of his sins. It is not that Jesus imputed sin as the cause of his infirmity but rather that Jesus was expressing his authority to release all of the power of evil over them.

In the presence of Jesus the divine power of forgiveness  is personally present on earth. Here in the gospel of Matthew God is glorified who has gives such power to human beings (i.e. to Jesus and the church).

Fr Brian Kelty

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