If you are in an accident in Dallas and you need immediate trauma care, there’s no better place than Parkland Hospital. Doctors come from all over North America to study at Parkland’s trauma center. On the other hand, if you have some condition that’s a little down from trauma, most people avoid Parkland. Parkland is a teaching hospital, so it is a little hit-or-miss. It is like going to a barber college: sometimes you get a good student, but other times your hair looks awful.
St Clement is a teaching mission, full of seminarians. Listening to a sermon here is like going to Parkland or to a barber college. You have been warned.
Today’s gospel features a sick person… with palsy, which is a kind of paralysis. Friends carried the man in.
In Dallas, we have a Baptist hospital, a Presbyterian hospital, a Methodist hospital. Fort Worth has a Roman Catholic hospital. And in today’s gospel, we have the founding example.
So what can we learn about this first Christian clinic? Is there some kind of "inside dope" that we can get from the story? Not much on the diagnosis side. Jesus doesn’t say, “Dude, you have a blockage. I’m on it.” Jesus doesn’t say that.
The only thing He said was: “Cheer up. Your sins are forgiven.” The first thing you get from today’s clinics are “I need to make a copy of your insurance card” or “Your co-pay is $30.” Our Master noted the faith of the friends who brought the man, but nothing is said about the man himself. He could not have been there except for community… friends. But words for the man from the Master Jesus were simple… just this: “Cheer up. Your sins are forgiven.”
He could have checked on the man’s faith, but Jesus doesn’t do that.
He could have checked on the man’s worthiness, but Jesus doesn’t do that.
He could have launched a pre-treatment enquiry on whether or not the man had blasphemed, but Jesus doesn’t do that.
We don’t know if the paralyzed man was a good and holy person… because Jesus didn’t bother asking. We don’t know if the paralyzed man goes on to rob people later in life. We don’t know anything of his worthiness, and the gospel doesn’t do any follow-up stories on what happened to him. He may even have been what the President would call an “evil doer” – we just don’t know. We only know that Jesus said, “Cheer up. Your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus didn’t even ask them man if he was sorry for his sins.
We do know there were some educated people nearby – scribes – who told Jesus: “You are way out of line. You can’t do that.” Jesus basically said, “Hide and watch.” Poor scribes. Every time you see a scribe in the New Testament, you can bet they’re going to get a.. well… uh… a Come-To-Jesus-Meeting. Find me a priest in the New Testament, and I’ll show you a schlemiel or a schlimazel. And here I am studying to be one. When a scribe enters the scene, buckle up for an object lesson on how being educated, holy and religious does not guarantee you a Winning Ticket in the Cosmic Sweepstake. Poor scribes, never humble and always the brunt for it.
How many times have we all heard people – educated people, religious people, modern-day scribes – say, “You can’t do that. You aren’t worthy.”
It is like Parkland Hospital refusing to take in sick people. Can you imagine a hospital being available only to the healthy? What kind of health care system would that be?
But that’s the sense about religion that I get from some people. Christianity should be available only to those who don’t need it.
And yet we call both of these men saints. All of the apostles were like them. None of them was worthy to be an apostle. The only person in the Christian scripture that seems worthy or innocent was Mary, the Mother of God. Everybody else came with warts – everyone else. Me too: warts, in spades.
Jesus doesn’t care. He didn’t ask the paralyzed man if he was worthy. He just said “Cheer up.” He didn’t ask if the man was sorry for his sins, he just blurted out, “your sins are forgiven” with no conditions, no wherefore’s, no provisos.
It doesn’t stop there, but that’s where it starts. The paralyzed man didn’t become worthy, he was born as worthy as he needed to be. The kind of spiritual health care you get from Jesus is homeopathic… minimalist… no electric shock. Just this: “Cheer up, your sins are forgiven.”
And the man got up and walked out. And the people outside the room saw the paralyzed man walking, and the all said, “Whoa.”
And I so wish somebody had recorded what the crowd said when the scribes walked out. Oh, wait a minute… the person taking notes would have been a scribe…
I think the important lesson in all this is what the gospel doesn’t say. It doesn’t say the paralyzed man was a Big Shot Jewish Pharisee… it would have mentioned it if he were. It doesn’t say he was a Big Time Roman soldier… it would have mentioned that if he were. He didn’t go on to do great things in history… it would have said so it if he did.
Wouldn’t it have made for a better story if Jesus had cured leprosy or shown the world how to do nuclear medicine? Wouldn’t it be a stronger story if Jesus had forgiven and cured, say, the Roman Emperor? Or an important politician, at the very least? But the man wasn’t called “important.” He was probably just an ordinary poor person No better than anyone here today… probably more poor, more ordinary than anyone here. He was a probably an outsider, toward the bottom rung of society.
Yet Jesus told him: “Cheer up. Your sins are forgiven.” It isn’t so much who you are or what you’ve done. It isn’t even something you have to work at… the man was just willing to be carried. The only thing the man in this story brought was his willingness. And in return, his simple willingness was rewarded with a life-changing experience.
The lesson here can bring us a renewal of heart. It isn’t worthiness: none of us would be worthy enough. It is merely willingness. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
And in the end, it is yet another experience where Jesus didn't come to show us how to be holy or spiritual. We're already holy and spiritual beings in the image of God, and that can't be improved. No, that isn't why Jesus was here. You've heard the term "Son Of Man." Jesus called himself that in our English translations, but the original Greek versions of the Christian Scripture have Jesus calling himself "the human one" -- and that's very different. He blessed and cured that cripple to show us (spiritual beings) how to be human.
This document is part of The Global Library,
from the The Southern Province USA of the North American Old Catholic Church.
Additional funding provided by The Wynn and Rick Wagner Foundation.
This document is part of The Global Library,