07 December 2020

Where does our priority lie? Benedict XVI on today's gospel, Luke 5:17-26


The gospel today, Monday of the Second Week of Advent, is St Luke's version of this healing story.

Luke 5:17-26 (English Standard Version Anglicised)

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralysed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’, 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 man who was paralysed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

In this book Pope Benedict XVI has a wonderful commentary on today's gospel on pages 43-44.

Jesus himself poignantly raised the question as to where the priority lies in man’s need for redemption on the occasion when the four men, who could not carry the paralytic through the door because of the crowd, let him down from the roof and laid him at Jesus’ feet. The sick man’s very existence was a plea, an urgent appeal for salvation, to which Jesus responded in a way that was quite contrary to the expectation of the bearers and of the sick man himself, saying: My son, your sins are forgiven’ (Mark 2:5) [Luke 5:20]. This was the last thing anyone was expecting. This was the last thing they were concerned about. The paralytic needed to be able to walk, not delivered from his sins. The scribes criticised the theological presumption of Jesus’ words: the sick man and those around him were disappointed, because Jesus had apparently overlooked the man’s real need.

I consider this whole scene to be of key significance for the question of Jesus’ mission in the terms with which he was first described by the angel’s message to Joseph. In the passage concerned, both the criticism of the scribes and the silent expectation of the onlookers is acknowledged. Jesus then demonstrates his ability to forgive sins by ordering the sick man to take up his pallet and walk away healed. At the same time, the priority of forgiveness for sins as the foundation of all true healing is clearly manifested.

Man is a relational being. And in his first fundamental relationship is disturbed – his relationship with God – then nothing can be truly in order. This is where the priority lies in Jesus message and ministry: before all else, he wants to point man toward the essence of his malady, and to show him – if you are not headed there, then however many good things you may find, you are not truly healed.

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