February 19, 2012

The Paralytic at Capernaum

In the book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, the author points out the literary meanings behind seasons, weather, and character descriptions. Today’s Gospel, the healing of the paralytic lowered from the roof, has several interesting points worth noting. The most obvious, and perhaps most often remarked, is that Jesus forgives sins, which shocks the religious leaders, but then heals the paralytic as proof of his authority. Christians already depend upon and embrace the healing and forgiveness offered by Jesus, but what else can we learn here?

Other aspects of this story are significant for our own situation. There are four men who bring the paralytic to Jesus, but are blocked by the crowd. Who are these men, or whom do they represent, and why are there four (aside from practical concerns)? The number four often represents the whole world, so perhaps it reminds us that the whole world comes to Christ for healing and forgiveness. We know nothing of their motivations. These litter bearers are not described as friends or relatives. For all we know, they may have been servants or even paid to deliver the paralytic, perhaps by his mother. We do know they were highly motivated, and considered getting the man to Jesus as more important than a roof. Seeing this, Jesus did not comment on the faith of the paralytic, but on the faith of those who bore the man in need of saving, and this was enough.

The heresy of Pelagianism claimed that we can attain Heaven by our own efforts. One objection to infant baptism has been the lack of choice, and that the child should wait until they can choose on their own. But in today’s story, it is the faith of the bearers that matters, the paralytic never requests healing or forgiveness. In the gospels, Jesus sometimes takes the initiative and heals those who did not ask, or invites himself to a tax collector’s house, when all the man wanted was to see Jesus. This turns our sense of control upside down, as we want to be the prime mover. We decide when we will accept Christ or reform our lives. But it is God who calls first, and we can only choose to answer.

In this gospel story, the paralytic is presented before Jesus, and he both forgives and heals. When Jesus commands him to get up and walk, he does so. While God moves first, it is up to us to move next. He will forgive and heal, but we must carry on from there.


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