When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’
Just three weeks ago we were in the final stages of preparing to celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were just around the corner. Final dashes were being made to the shops and hurried present wrapping accompanied the planning of the biggest meal of the year. Then came the moment itself. For some this involved attendance at a midnight or Christmas morning service, whilst others focused their attention on presents and conviviality. But, in the midst of all the jollity and celebration, how many paused to reflect upon the reason for this annual winter celebration? How many joined with those who crowded around Jesus in today’s reading and exclaimed: We have never seen anything like this?
Early in Mark’s gospel we read of Jesus’ growing ‘fame’. We read that: So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door. The baby whose miraculous birth we so often trivialise with the excess of our presents and decorations and huge meals was something far greater than the act of healing we read of today. The Incarnation was a one-off life-changing event, that brought healing to the whole of humanity, for the whole of time. Surely, just three weeks on, we should still be saying: We have never seen anything like this.
So often we fall into the trap of seeking the superficial glory of being able to say, ‘We were there!’ or ‘We actually saw him, or her, or whatever!’ But too often that fleeting moment of drawing close passes into recent memory before becoming a distant recollection or something we believe we dreamed. The effort involved in getting ready and making the journey does not embed itself in a way that makes a real difference to the way in which we live our lives.
For the paralytic man in today’s reading an encounter with Jesus opened up a new, liberated life. Despite the criticism of the scribes, his sins were forgiven and he was healed of his disability. The faith of the paralysed man and his companions moved Jesus. The way in which Jesus responded to that faith moved others: so that they were all amazed and glorified God. Sadly, it is likely that those same people could have been amongst the crowds who would come to shout: Crucify him! on the day of his crucifixion.
At this point on our journey between Christmas and Easter, it is good for us to pause and reflect. What difference did our celebration of Christmas make? Have we chosen to join the wise men in taking the message of Christ’s birth out into the wider world? Are we ‘amazed and glorifying’ God, or are we just carrying on as normal? And, if the amazing message of the last three weeks has not moved us into a deeper relationship with God, perhaps we need to ask what more he could do for us? He is listening, and he wants us to go forward in faith, a faith so profound that we might also know the joy of the healed man.