Cure of the paralytic

Anthony Zimmerman
For Catholicmind
Aug. 22 2004
Reproduced with Permission

And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." Then some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming" (Matt 9:1-3).

His own town was Capernaum, as Mark also states, and the place was "at home" which was probably Peter's house. By this time Jesus had become so popular that people immediately came from everywhere to surround Him. This time not only was the house of Peter full, but the crowd outside was so thick that one could not maneuver through it to get to Jesus easily.

This paralytic must have been in a desperate state, but he had friends who would do anything to help him, a kindness that Jesus did not leave unrewarded. The four men were undoubtedly strong and inventive. They carried the man up the steep outside stairs of the house to the roof. The roof was typically made of thick clay packed by a stone roller, laid on top of branches supported by wood beams. These four men took the liberty to first clear away the clay and branches, above the spot where they could hear Jesus speaking. There was room between the wood beams to lower the mat down into the room down below and right into the crowd. Suddenly there he was, at the feet of Jesus.

Thus a perfect teaching moment was prepared, and Jesus took full advantage of it. He saw among the crowd proud teachers of the law who came not to learn but to catch Him in some alleged wrong-doing for which they could accuse Him. Jesus did not immediately touch the man and heal him. Instead He welcomed the man with the endearing term "Son." The four men looking down from the hole in the roof must have been really glad to hear that. Then He said the words: "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." The scribes looked at each other triumphantly. That's what they needed to hear: Blasphemy! For who could know what sins the man had committed, except God who sees the mind and heart. And what man can forgive sins and restore the man's good relationship with God? No man can do such a thing. Indeed, the scribes had exactly the goods they needed, to accuse Him of blasphemy. Blasphemy could be punished with death as we know from the trial of Jesus (Matt. 26:57). With malicious intent the scribes were already savoring in their hearts how they would accuse Him. But Jesus read their thoughts and prepared a smashing answer for their frivolity. He will prove the truth of His provocative words by deeds - by working a miracle, by performing this wonder-cure that only God can do.

But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he then said to the paralytic--"Stand up, take your bed and go to your home." And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings (Matt 9:4-8).

First, Jesus blunted the holier-than-thou attitude of the accusers by turning the tables of the accusation on them: "Why do you think evil in your heats?" That alone should have made them tremble and to cease their evil designs. They had revealed their thoughts to no one, for as Chrysostom observes, they would not have dared to do so before this crowd (Sermon on Matthew 29, Logos CD "Early Christian Fathers). So how did Jesus know what they were thinking? Only God can see the heart of man and know what he is thinking.

Then, as if to say: "Who can make a paralytic walk again, except God alone?" He gave visible proof to the accusers that He is indeed in the possession of the powers of God the Almighty. "Stand up" He said to the paralytic, "Take your bed and go to your home." The way the paralytic then began to move all by himself, perhaps slowly at first and in a dazed wonder, then confidently steadying himself on feet that he had not used for a long time, finally bending to pick up his mat, shouldering it, and marching through the crowd which opened the way for him, was a sight fit to make the people gasp and hold their breath. It was also a fit response to the frustrated scribes who had to swallow their spittle. As Chrysostom observed "He made use of their envy for the manifestation of the miracle." It was they who had brought their own disbelief into discredit by occasioning the miracle. This was not the kind of event they could formulate into an accusation to satisfy the itching ears of their High Priest. This was rather a clear defeat for their evil design, and they had nothing to say either to the crowd or to Jesus. The crowd, quite to the contrary, was at first dumb-struck at what they saw, then filled with awe, and finally they erupted in a jubilation of cheers, giving glory to God as the surly and frustrated scribes should also have done.

Here, as elsewhere, Jesus was inviting His enemies as well as His friends His enemies: if He says words that only God should dare to say, then backs up those words with divine deeds, that should make everyone wonder and ask who this Person really is. Is He not the Emmanuel, the "God-with-us," whom the Prophet Isaiah had foretold seven hundred years previously (Isaiah 7:14)? For clearly, by word and deed He had acted as only God can act. As Chrysostom put it:

And not here only, but also in another case again, when they were saying, "For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy, and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." neither in that instance did He put down this opinion, but again confirmed it, saying, "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works."

Yet Chrysostom observes that Christ was not yet writing off the scoffing enemies as forever lost. He did not thunder at them, but asked gently: "Why do you think evil in your hearts?" Even what appears to be a hopeless sinner has a chance to convert until the end of his life, and many do so.

"And Christ again, when His disciples had come to Him, requiring fire to come down from heaven, strongly rebuked them. saying, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." And here again He said not, "O accursed, and sorcerers as ye are; O ye envious, and enemies of men's salvation;" but, "Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?" We must, you see, use gentleness to eradicate the disease. Since he who is become better through the fear of man, will quickly return to wickedness again. For this cause He commanded also the tares to be left, giving an appointed day of repentance. Yea, and many of them in fact repented, and became good, who before were bad; as for instance, Paul, the Publican, the Thief; for these being really tares turned into kindly wheat. Because, although in the seeds this cannot be, yet in the human will it is both manageable and easy; for our will is bound by no limits of nature, but hath freedom of choice for its privilege.