Lessons from the Paralytic

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) – Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25; Psalms 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14; Second Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12. This series appears each Wednesday.

Photography © by Andy Coan

Sometimes we act as if sins are just black marks against us in God’s ledger, debits against our rewards account.

But the gospel story of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12) should wake us up to the real nature of sin.  For sin is more than a demerit – it is distancing of a person from God, who happens to be our source of life and energy.  God’s Holy Spirit is “the force” that must be with us if we are to have life and strength and vigor.

Sin is always a result of a decision.  Original Sin, flowing from the tragic decision of Adam and Eve, causes us to inherit a weakened humanity which, from the moment of conception, is distanced from God.  Actual sin results from each person’s own decisions.  Some decisions can cut us off entirely from the divine life source.  We call these decisions “mortal.”  Some decisions don’t snuff out divine life, but rather weaken it.  Such sins are called “venial.”

But whether original or actual, mortal or venial, sin always drains the life right out of us.  As we walk away from God, we grow spiritually weaker and weaker till we come to the point that we no longer have the strength to walk back home to our Father.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after his first mission trip, people flocked to him.  But a paralyzed man couldn’t join the throng–he just lay there watching people pass him by.  Until, that is, some of his friends cared enough to pick him up and bring him to Jesus.  But then they encountered a problem – the crowd was so thick that they could not get their friend through the door.  They could have consoled themselves that they tried, and then brought the poor man home.  But they were more determined than that.  They hoisted him up on the roof, opened a hole in the thatch, and lowered him down.

The gospel of Mark makes a curious comment at this point.  “Seeing their faith,” it says, Jesus turns to the paralyzed man and tells him that his sins are forgiven.

First of all, note that faith is something that should be visible. The four stretcher carriers believed that Jesus was, at the very least, a mighty man of God who could help their friend.  But this belief manifested itself in resolute, persistent, conspicuous action.  And of course this faith was united with charity, since they had gone to such great lengths not for themselves but for their unfortunate friend.

Notice, however, that it was not the paralyzed man’s faith that prompted Jesus’ decision to forgive his sin.  It was the faith of his friends.  Perhaps his physical paralysis was a sign of utter spiritual paralysis–maybe he had not the strength to make a positive act of faith.

So his friends’ faith stood in proxy for his own.  That’s exactly why infant baptism has always practiced in the Church from the beginning – the faith of parents, godparents, and the whole church stand in proxy for the infant who is incapable of faith.

The most deadly paralysis is the paralysis of sin.  But when the Pharisees object to Jesus authority to heal this malady, to wipe out his past and give him a brand new start (Is 43:18-25), Jesus demonstrates his competence by healing the physical disease as well.  Jesus does not say “yes” to our spiritual needs and say “no” to our earthly needs (2 Cor 1:18-22).  He created us body and soul and desires that we have fullness of life, in every department, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

So a tormented man, who had to be carried to Jesus, walked away bearing his own stretcher and free as a lark.  It would never have happened, though, if his faith-filled friends had not cared enough to risk ridicule and disappointment to bring him to Jesus.

So when’s the last time you invited someone to church?

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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