The Healing of the Paralytic
Fr. Scott Haynes
A Meditation upon Matthew 9:1-8
At that time, Jesus, getting into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. And behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a pallet. And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven you. And behold, some of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemes. And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, Why do you harbor evil thoughts in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, - then He said to the paralytic - Arise, take up your pallet and go to your house. And he arose, and went away to his house. But when the crowds saw it, they were struck with fear, and glorified God Who had given such power to men.
After performing many miracles, Jesus boarded Peter’s boat for Capharnaum. Hearing that He was in a house in their city, the people gathered in such numbers that the door of the house was completely obstructed. Many had come in search of a miracle. The Gospel tells us four men had been trying to bring their paralyzed friend inside so that Jesus could heal him. This man had been paralyzed for a very long time and everyone knew it.
This group of friends had been repeatedly trying for some time to gain entrance and were now frustrated. They were not able to get into the house because of the crowd. Their goal was to get their friend in front of Jesus, and it was not possible. Unable to enter by the door, these good men carried their friend on a stretcher up onto the roof of the house where Jesus was. Seemingly, they used an outer staircase or ladder to gain access to the roof. After they dug through the roof, they were able to lower him down squarely at Our Lord’s feet.
Archaeologists tells us that the roofs of the homes in Jesus’ day were constructed of timbers (tree poles) which were spaced about 2-3 feet apart. Little branches, reeds, brush, and palm fronds were then laid atop that. Then, leaves, dirt, and clay were applied and flattened with stone rollers. Because of this construction method, the roof could be removed in sections or in “tiles.”
The Gospel indicates Jesus was sitting and teaching in the courtyard area within the home. So, St. Luke tells us that they removed the tiles of the home, it appears that they removed a section of roof covered by clay over the courtyard. Mark 2:4 adds that they “dug” through the roof. That is, they removed the clay, dirt, and leaves in order to create a hole in the roof. Dirt and leaves must have started falling. Everyone surely would have noticed. Jesus’ teaching would have been interrupted when the hole in the roof was created to lower this paralytic down in front of Jesus. All eyes would must have been fixed on Christ to see what he would do in this surprising scene.
Seeing the faith of this man’s friends, Jesus says to the paralyzed man, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven you.” Looking at the Greek text of the Gospel, another way to translate that phrase. “Take courage,” would be to say, “Be brave.” Apparently, the man was fearful. Was he fearful because he believed that his paralysis was due to sin? Another question is, when Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic, what exactly is He forgiving?
We might speculate on what the paralytic’s sins might have been, but perhaps we can make an educated guess. Part of what is going on here is that Christ was relieving him of the toxic shame of having to be carried everywhere and being seen as an invalid. At the time of Christ, physical deformities and disabilities were perceived as an indication that that person had sinned, and that the disabled person had to bear not only the pain of that deformity, but also the shamefulness for being disabled.
For many years, this man identified with his infirmity. That was his primary identity. He could not get away with it. Everyone knew he was a paralytic. His paralysis was also a bitter fruit of his state of mind. So, when Our Savior says to him, “Take heart my son (be of good cheer), your sins are forgiven,” Our Lord takes away his helpless shame by saying in essence: “I love you just as you are.” There is a mystery here, because when we realize that we are loved just as we are in our infirmities, a door opens for us to become better and more like Christ.
Christ the Physician of our souls is more interested in restoring the man’s identity as a beloved child of God. This is more important than the physical healing the man is also hoping for. When the paralytic realizes this, a huge burden is lifted from his shoulders, so much so that he is able to stand up, take up his pallet, and go home, healed.
The paralytic identified with his worthlessness and was living with toxic shame. In the Gospels, we see others like this, such as the woman with the flow of blood, the man born blind, and the cripple who could not get to the healing waters at the pool of Siloam. Some had the courage to call out for help, but many were healed by the faith of their friends like Jairus’ daughter or the Centurion’s servant, or today’s healing, all who were healed through the intercession and faith of their friends. Consider, you can be an instrument in God’s hand through prayer and encouragement, being an advocate for your friends and loved ones. Today’s Gospel reminds us again of the power of intercession which is given to us.
While Our Lord treats the paralytic with gentle care, we behold Christ’s authority and his power as he addresses the scribes with chastisement. Jesus’ words to the paralytic are, at the same time, a correction of the prideful religious leaders: “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, rise, take up your bed and walk.”
When Jesus knowing the thoughts of the scribes, asks, “Which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’, he demonstrates that his power to heal is a sign of God’s authority. When the crowds see this, they are afraid, they marvel, and they glorify God. Today’s Gospel instructs us that Jesus neither defines us by our achievements nor by our disabilities. No one can brag that he has impressed God. We ought to understand that before Christ, we are all sinners—men broken and in need of Christ’s healing touch.
Notes:  We should distinguish that these is a difference between toxic shame and healing shame. If toxic shame leads to sense of worthlessness and destructive, disabling self-hatred, healthy, healing shame which leads to humility is totally different. Healthy shame, which is often denoted in our bodies by blushing – when we know we are wrong – can lead to self-awareness and a desire to change. This is the meaning of repentance – to turn from our ways, and live! When shame is sanctified as it is here in today’s Gospel reading, it has a saving purpose, as we invite Jesus into our brokenness, that He might heal us.  This healing and many others not only establishes Jesus’ authority, but challenges the authority of the scribes and the Pharisees early in his ministry.