One day, while Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (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 paralysed 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 paralysed – ‘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.’
In today’s reading we hear of some men who went to extraordinary lengths to help a paralysed man, a man who was confined to his bed. We are not told who those men were, whether they were family, friends or neighbours. We are not told how many men were involved in this incredible act of kindness, although it would be fair to assume that, given the weight of an immobile person and their bed, there must have been at least four, five or six of them, possibly more. This level of detail is not of primary importance, of course. The important thing for us to note is that they sought to bring the paralysed man the gift of healing … and at no small inconvenience to themselves.
On a daily basis, and particularly at this time of the year, we are bombarded with requests for help. Our post is full of communications from charities, and the advertisements on our televisions are punctuated with invitations to donate to worthwhile causes via our mobile phones. Fundraisers seek to highjack our goodwill (and our guilt) as we immerse ourselves in our seasonal preoccupation with Christmas shopping. All are good causes, but …! The correspondence becomes labelled as ‘junk mail’; the advertisements become a time to ‘switch off’; the fundraisers turn our walk between shops into an obstacle course. We become blind to all those worthy causes, and we certainly do not consider inconveniencing ourselves for the benefit of others.
Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus modelled and spoke of love and service. In earlier translations of the Bible the word ‘love’ was often rendered as ‘charity’. The two words are synonymous. Love and charity, in Christian terms, mean exactly the same thing. This is precisely why the well-known phrase: ‘Charity begins at home’ is so pernicious. To turn Christ’s message of love into something that is focused on self in such a way could not be more un-Christian!
The men in today’s reading should give all of us pause for thought. Jesus told us to love our neighbours as ourselves; he also told us to love as he has loved us. Jesus’ love knew no bounds. Jesus went so much further than man-handling a bed, complete with paralysed man, through a roof. Jesus gave himself completely and utterly for the good of humanity. We are called to do no less.
Let us pray for the strength, the courage and the humility to set those in need before ourselves. Let us pray that we might never find ourselves saying: charity begins at home.