The desert and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the desert, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying 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 middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you. ” Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ 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 said to the one who was paralyzed — “I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home. ” Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”
Isaiah paints a word-picture of the Lord’s redeemed people streaming back from exile, across a desert now flowing with fresh water; and the front of this triumphant procession is already entering Zion, the Holy City. In the Gospel by contrast, Jesus is embroiled in a petty theological argument. We do not know what he was discussing, surrounded by a large group of people as well as by Pharisees and teachers of the law. Clearly confusion and consternation set in when several men made an opening in the roof and lowered a paralytic with his mat into the middle of the crowd. Our Lord abruptly stopped the discussion but stirred up an even hotter debate when he said to the paralytic: “My friend, your sins are forgiven you.”
For Jesus, the forgiveness of sin was linked with total concern for the other person. To show the full implication of spiritual transformation, he cured the paralytic who then “stood erect . . . picked up the mat he had been lying on and went home praising God. ” We realize as well that the sacrament of reconciliation ought not to be confined exclusively to forgiving sins, but should extend into a dialogue for reconciling the penitent with neighbour and with all aspects of life.
The Church’s apostolate cannot be faithful to Jesus if it is confined to people’s souls alone. To forgive sins requires that we be anxious to help the other person in all areas of his life. It requires that the Church take seriously the social sins of today’s world and work vigorously to remedy social injustices. We too must be instruments of love, so that our kindliness toward the physical and material needs of others will induce a charity strong enough to burn away sin. The removal of sin ought to have repercussions across the total lives of others. Sometimes we may first address the sins and faults, at other times it will be more sensible to care first for the physical needs of others, always concerned for their full human dignity.
Very often in life we come across barriers of one kind or another that we have to negotiate. We set ourselves a worthwhile goal and problems stand in our way. When we head in a particular direction we discover the obstacles that can block our way. The temptation is often to lose heart, to give up or to turn back. In today’s gospel, the friends of a paralysed man wanted to get their friend to Jesus but they found that other people were blocking their way; they encountered a significant obstacle or barrier. Rather than give up or turn back, they found a way around the barrier, climbing up onto a roof with their friend and letting him down through the tiles before Jesus. Jesus was very taken by their faith, their persistent faith. Here was a little community of faith, the paralytic and his friends, who kept their focus on the Lord and on journeying towards him, in spite of the obstacles and setbacks they encountered along the way. In many ways this little community of faith can be an inspiration for us this Advent season when we are called to keep journeying towards the Lord, to keep our focus on him, in spite of whatever may be at work in our lives to keep us from the Lord. Jesus surprised them all by first saying to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” The paralytic needed spiritual as well as physical healing and his spiritual healing took priority. As we keep our focus on the Lord this Advent, we look to him for our own spiritual healing.