Body and Soul, both made whole-Thursday, 13th week in ordinary time – Matthew 9: 1-8
There are two ways to approach this passage – from a pastoral reflection point of view, or from the evangelist’s intended purpose. This morning, I will briefly dwell on both approaches.
In order to understand evangelist’s purpose, we must place ourselves somewhere between the years 80-90 AD, when Matthew penned this Gospel. Matthew is not the first to write New Testament literature. Paul had been writing letters and Mark has already completed his account of the Gospel in around 64-69 AD.
The circumstances that surround the accounts of Mark and Matthew are very different. By the time Matthew has written his Gospel, the Romans have attacked Jerusalem, pillaged it and destroyed the temple. The Jewish authorities, seeing the lack of co-operation from the followers of Christ in defending the city and temple, now excommunicate the ‘followers of Christ’ who still considered themselves to be Jewish.
A bitter family feud between the Jews and the Jewish followers of Christ breaks out. Matthew, writing in these troubled times, uses as his foundation, the Gospel of Mark, albeit with the circumstances of his community in mind. For Matthew, Jesus is the Son of God come to fulfil the law and the prophets, corrupted by the Jewish authorities who likewise, have an intense hatred for Him.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in healing a paralytic in His own home town earns the ire of the scribes when He says, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Immediately the charge of blasphemy is brought up. This is the very charge that will cost Jesus His life in Matthew, 26:65.
Unlike Mark, who will narrate this Gospel passage, peppered with great detail, Matthew chooses to get to the point; a point that Mark did not make. For the Jews, an illness such as paralysis was a punishment from God for sin. Matthew wants to present Jesus as not merely a miracle worker, but the Son of God who has the ‘authority’ to extend this power to forgive sins, to his Church.
Hence Jesus does not at first say, ‘pick up your mat and walk’ but He says, ‘your sins are forgiven’. He is the Son of God and with Him rests the power to forgive sins, but He also has the power to extend this authority – to forgive sins, to the Church. It is for these reasons that that those who see this miracle are not merely left amazed, as in Mark’s Gospel, but they glorify God who had given such authority to men.
On a more reflective note, it is heartening to revisit the miracle itself. While Mark’s Gospel elaborates this miracle, the outline in Matthew remains the same. A paralytic is brought in by his friends and seeing their faith (not the faith of the paralytic who may have not been able to say a thing), Jesus heals the man.
There could be no better example for intercessory prayer than from this miracle. There are many people who do not believe in God or Christ; yet we who have experienced His saving power, intercede for them. Perhaps we may not be able to physically carry our loved ones or even those we do not love as we should, to Jesus. What we can do is to lift them up in prayer.
It is a pity that the prayers of the faithful, said in our Churches seem to be more an ‘activity’ to be completed rather than a power packed experience of faith. Perhaps those who write these prayers on behalf of the community should first spend time in deep prayer, discerning the word of God in the readings of the day, rather than pick issues of week.
Fr Warner D’Souza
References from the JBC