Have you ever locked yourself out of your house or car? Have you ever needed to get somewhere and were stuck in traffic? Have you ever needed to mail something at the post office and when you arrived the line was already out of the door? Have you been sick and not been able to get to a doctor? Have you or are you dealing with a chronic or debilitating health condition? Are you aware of recurring sin, that you just can’t seem to get past?
If you have experienced any, many, or all of the situations above, you may have some empathy for the man in today’s Gospel of Luke who is paralyzed. Word has come to him that Jesus of Nazareth is close by. He heard that Jesus had helped the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. Could he receive healing? How though could he get to him? Somehow men came forward to bring the man, we don’t know if they were family, friends, or neighbors. In Mark’s account (cf. Mk 2:1-12) he wrote that there were four men. The key point is that they bothered to care, they made the time, carried him on a stretcher, and brought the man to Jesus.
When they arrived they could not find “a way to bring him in because of the crowds” (Lk 5:19). Unfortunately, “the crowds” could not be bothered to move, to adjust their positions, or to make a way for them to get through. We can imagine the man’s anguish. He had come this far but would be able to get no closer. Maybe some of his bearers were getting frustrated with the lack of willingness of others to make way. Yet, one of the five, maybe even the man himself, was able to think outside of the box.
They maneuvered the man, still on the stretcher, up to the roof, removed some tiles, and let him down before Jesus. Jesus witnessing their faith said, “As for you, your sins are forgiven” (Lk 5:20). Before the man could even fully take in the wonderful gift of mercy he had received, the scribes and Pharisees challenged Jesus’ words, accusing him of blasphemy. Only God could forgive sins. Jesus not missing a beat doubled down: “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” (Lk 5:23-24).
The man, who, with the aid of four others, met every obstacle placed before him to get to Jesus. Then he faced his last obstacle, the one that put him in this position in the first place, his sins. He was ready, willing, and able to face his sins and relinquish them in the healing words of Jesus. Just to be clear, not everyone who is dealing with a physical or chronic condition does so because of sin. This man had, for it was so deep in his being, and for how long we do not know but, he was paralyzed by them. We can beat ourselves up pretty good, and be so unforgiving of others and ourselves, that sin often has debilitating effects.
The passage regarding the Healing of the Paralytic is a wonderful account to meditate upon. I invite you to read it through a couple of times. Who do we at the moment of our reading see ourselves to be in the story? Are we one of the four men that offer help to the paralyzed man, the many onlookers in the crowd who prevent access to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees, or are we the man paralyzed by sin? Is there something that is preventing us from getting to Jesus, is there a recurring sin that we keep repeating, are we are unwilling to forgive someone, are there particular attachments we cling to?
Let nothing prevent you from coming to Jesus. There may be those blocking access to him. You may have gone in the past to Confession and had a horrible experience with a priest who may have actually berated you, or the opposite. You may have had a sin that was totally discounted or brushed over. You may have even encountered an indifferent priest who appeared not to give you the time of day. Those are unfortunate experiences, hurtful, and inexcusable. You may have had others say to you or you may say to yourself, I do not need to go to a priest, I can just go to God. You can. The practice of examining your conscience and doing that is a wonderful spiritual discipline. I would encourage you to continue!
I also invite you to come to Jesus. He is present in the sacrament of Reconciliation as he is in all the sacraments. This is a personal encounter with Christ. As the paralyzed man needed aid getting to Jesus, so do we. The priest is a minister of God’s mercy and grace, present to us so that we can hear the words of Christ: “Your sins are forgiven” and “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” There is something about hearing these words that are freeing and healing. Just as the man heard Jesus say he was forgiven and left praising God, so too may we come to Jesus so that we may also encounter his mercy, and also leave healed, filled with joy, and praising God!
If you happen to be in the Jupiter area this Wednesday, December 16, priests will be available to hear confession at 9 am and we will also be having a communal penance service and personal confessions at 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Both services will be held in the main sanctuary. St. Peter Catholic Church is located at 1701 Indian Creek Parkway, Jupiter, FL 33458. If you are reading this from places afar, I am sure that you can access a parish near you this Advent. If you are not Catholic, you can still reach out to God and one another!
Photo: Pope Francis giving absolution to a young teen