Entering into the silence and the miraculous, life-giving action of taking breath in and sending it out
For this session simply listen to your breathing, focus on its ebb and flow. In and out, In and out, without changing the pace in any way, just entering into the silence and the miraculous, life-giving action of taking breath in and sending it out. Imagine our life giving God doing exactly that, and use that image to become still.
Then, when you have stilled yourself, at least for a while, turn to God, and say ‘Here I am; speak, Lord - your servant is listening’.
Notice how the story develops
This story follows immediately after the one that we looked at in our last session, that of the Gadarene demoniacs. Notice how the story develops.
And after getting into a boat he crossed the water and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralysed 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.’ 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.
God is always looking for the chance to dispense his healing mercy
- First, ‘he went on a boat and crossed over’; this is a movement from the non-Jewish area back to Galilee. We are invited to go with Jesus on his journey. Jesus travels on a boat. Important things happen on boats in the gospel. Why do you think this is?
- Matthew uses that word that is common in his gospel: ‘And Look!’ This is Matthew’s way of telling us to pay attention, as we hear the start of the healing story: ‘They [Matthew does not say who] were bringing him a paralytic, flung on a bed’. This is the same word as was used of the centurion’s child or servant, and of Peter’s mother-in-law, and underlines the extent of the affliction. Imagine the plight of the one for whom they were asking for mercy and healing. How is that person feeling?
- You will also notice that Matthew misses out the detail in Mark that the people carrying this paralysed person ‘unroofed the roof’. Possibly Matthew takes the ‘Health and Safety’ view that you should not try this at home. How does the scene appear to you?
- We then hear the comment about Jesus ‘seeing their faith’. This tells us that God’s mercy is not dependent on the faith of those who might be in need of healing; God is always looking for the chance to dispense his healing mercy. Does faith help in the quest for mercy? Have you ever sought this healing mercy for someone else? Has anyone ever sought this healing mercy for you?
- After that, there is a thoroughly unexpected utterance by Jesus, as we eavesdrop on him saying, ‘Courage, child’. Instinctively we know that all will be well. That word ‘child’ gives us all the information that we need, for Matthew’s narrative would have just shown in the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7, the central teaching that God is to be addressed as ‘Father’. Can you imagine Jesus whispering these words in your ear, ‘Courage, child’? How does this make you feel?
- Jesus takes us by surprise once more; we are expecting him to say, ‘Take up your bed and walk’; but instead he says, ‘your sins are being forgiven’. Then once again Matthew invites us to pay attention with his phrase ‘And look!’; which might invite us to ask, ‘What is God going to do?’
- We hear of ‘some of the scribes’. They have sprung from nowhere, but we already know that they mean trouble. If that were not enough we are invited to hear their thoughts (‘they said in themselves’); and what do they say? ‘This one is blaspheming!' Here we hear them wave the red flag of danger, for this is a lethal accusation, and could mean death. Why are Jesus’ opponents so cross with him? Does this find an echo in your life today?
Talk to God
Talk to God about what this story has meant for you, and how it affects your life
- Jesus’ response is interesting as, ‘he knew their thoughts’. There is a sense here of effortless control, the voice of God. Have you experienced this voice in your life?
- Now he reproaches them (and we may think of Pope Francis’ attitude to the religiously rigid): ‘why are you thinking evil thoughts in your hearts?’ We may reflect that they probably thought that these were good and pious thoughts. Finally, he sets them a trap: ‘Which is easier? To say “your sins are being forgiven”? Or to say “Arise and walk”?’ (‘Arise’, we should remember, is Resurrection language.) How did you feel when you heard this ‘resurrection’-language in the story?
- The opponents are given no space to answer. Instead, Jesus goes on: ‘but in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’. What many people in our world are looking for is precisely the forgiveness of that sense of having done wrong that prevents them from finding healing and mercy. What forgiveness are you looking for so that you too can experience God’s healing mercy?
- Jesus goes on: ‘he says to the paralytic’ [and, yes, you have correctly observed that he started a sentence that he never finished]: ‘Rise up’ [Resurrection again, you see], ‘lift up your bed and go home’. This of course cannot possibly happen; the man is paralysed! Is there an impossible situation in your own life that comes up when you think of this?
- The result is now revealed, without any sense of undue drama: ‘and he rose up and went to his home’ (though there is nothing about his carrying the bed). Why do you think the healing is so undramatic, as Matthew tells it?
- Now look at the result, important for our Lenten purposes of praying over the healing mercy of God in Jesus: ‘when they saw it, the crowds were afraid’. We are probably not to understand this as terror, as what you experienced on that occasion when you were summoned to the headmaster’s office, but as something more like ‘reverence’ or perhaps ‘awe’. Have you ever experienced this type of fear before? One that is more like reverence or awe?
- Look at their final verdict: ‘They glorified God who had given such authority to human beings’. The story tells us how God’s healing mercy works in Jesus, and the effect that it has on human beings: they glorify God. Does this story invite you to ‘glorify God’? In what way? Talk to God about what this story has meant for you, and how it affects your life.