Today’s Gospel speaks to us of what we should expect on our Christian journey, a journey sometimes referred to in Gospel music as a walk up the King’s Highway, or a walk on the highway to heaven. And along the way we come to certain mileposts that we should expect to see and experience in the normal Christian life. Let’s look at four of these mileposts.
(The picture at right will be explained a little further down).
I. Hunger – The text says, When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. Thus note that there is a great hunger, and an enthusiasm for the presence and the preaching of Jesus. The crowds enthusiastically gather and crowd in close to hear and see Jesus.
So, here is an important milepost on the Highway to heaven. In fact we might call it the “entrance ramp.” It is hunger or desire for the Lord and his Word, Jesus.
Are you hungry for the Word of God? Scripture says,
- The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver pieces (Ps 119:72)
- I rejoice at thy word like one who finds great spoil (Ps 119:162).
- I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12).
In speaking of hunger as a kind of on-ramp of the Highway to Heaven it is important to consider that the people who gathered to hear Jesus were drawn there by their hunger. They were not self-satisfied. They were in touch with their need, aware of their desire, sober about their thirst. It was these very things that drew them to Jesus, for he healed and gave meaning to their life.
And we too, must come to accept and experience our hunger and ask questions:
- Why am I hungry?
- Why am I Dissatisfied?
- Why is my life here difficult?
- Why do I face sorrows and challenges?
- What do these things teach me?
- How can I satisfy them?
The most common danger in experiencing hunger, thirst and desire is that we seek to anesthetize ourselves from it (perhaps by drinking, drugs, sex, or material possessions), rather than to get in touch with it and allow it to teach us, and draw us to God. For only God, who is infinite, can ultimately satisfy our infinite hunger and longing.
Jesus goes so far as to pronounce a blessing on those who are hungry: Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied (Luke 6:21). And indeed these hungry people were satisfied. For not only did Jesus bring healing, He also gave them a word that inspired and transformed. Yes, what a blessing it must have been to hear Jesus preach. Scripture says of Jesus’ preaching
- And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Mat 7:28).
- And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth (Luke 4:22).
- And the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37).
- Sent to arrest him the temple guard returned: No one ever spoke like that man (Jn 7:46)
Thus the first milestone on the Highway to heaven, the on-ramp if you will, is hunger. Allow the Lord to draw you to him. Your hunger is saying to you, seek the face of the Lord!
II. Help – The text goes on to say – They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
The second Milestone on the Highway to heaven is that we all need help. You didn’t hear about Jesus all by your self. Somebody told you about Him. Faith comes by hearing, and that means we need someone to tell us and teach us about Christ.
As I write this today, I am powerfully aware that I am the result of prayer. I am aware that the healing, and the gifts the Lord has given me, have come from him, but through others. Yes, we are not believers today just because we’re so good, or so right. We’re believers because somebody has been praying for us, witnessing to us. Someone brought us to Jesus, some one ministered the sacraments and preached to us. Maybe it was a parent, who told and priests who brought the sacraments and preached. Maybe it was a catechist, or friend who witnessed to us and helped teach us. But SOMEONE helped us to come to Jesus.
And, frankly. we have all been paralyzed by something: ignorance, fear, sin, laziness. Through it all, somebody took the time to carry us to Jesus! They carried us in prayer, and some them (especially parents) had to drag us to him.
In the photo above, there are some women from my parish. And they are praying right over the spot in Capernaum were this gospel event took place. For the text tells us that Jesus was “home.” And “home” for him Capernaum was Peter’s house. The Church in which they are praying is built right over the house of Peter. And as you come to the rail in that Church you can look right down into the ruins of the House of Peter, the very house where this event took place. And the women in the photo are just at the point where the roof would have once been, praying, looking down. Yes, you might say, spiritually they are opening that roof once again as they pray for members of their family, their friends and others. And they, by their prayers are laying their friends and family members right before Jesus. Lowering them once again through that roof. Yes, even to this day the roof of Peter’s house is still being opened to let down the needy, the poor and that paralyzed. You can see it right in the photo.
And so it is that our faith has been given to us by others, who carried us to Christ and preached the word. Scripture says, So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God…How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Rom 10:17ff)
And old Gospel song says, Somebody prayed for me. Had me on their mind, took the time and prayed for me. I’m so glad they prayed, I’m so glad they prayed for me.
III. Healing – The text says, When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,”Child, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” –he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone.
A third milepost on the highway to heaven is to experience our need for healing, and also the power of Jesus to give this healing to us. The fact is, while we will always have some sins and struggles on this side of the veil, we also ought to look for increasing healing in our journey. This is especially true of our spiritual and moral healing. The experience of being increasingly free of the paralyzing effects of sin and sorrow, and other spiritual struggles is an essential part of the normal Christian life as we journey up the King’s Highway. We are to experience, and live victorious lives.
In terms of the healing Jesus brings about, note three aspects of what he says to the man:
- Rise – that is to say, “Receive new life, new capacities; no longer be weighed down with weakness; be set free; Rise to new life!”
- Take up your mat – That is to say, “Take authority over that on which you once depended. What ever crutch you once leaned on, now be strong enough to carry it. No longer lean on it, have authority over it. If you once depended on sin for happiness, now, take authority over it. If you once needed booze to calm your nerves, lean no longer on it, take authority over it. If you once depended on gossip and detraction to feel important, now take authority over it. No longer be dependent on any creature or sin, but, by being healed, have the power to carry it off like a trophy of victory.”
- Walk – That is to say, “Engage in new behavior, make new strides, experience and use new power, new strength.”
IV Hope – The text says, They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.“
Here again we see a description of the normal Christian life, a life which is marked with profound hope and joy. Hope is the confident expectation of God’s help in attaining eternal life. It is to be a hallmark, and a fourth and essential milepost on the highway to heaven.
As we make our journey up the King’s highway, and experience God’s help (so often through others) and his healing, there comes to us a joy and a confidence that becomes increasingly unshakable. We grow astounded at what God can and does do in our life. We marvel at how he sets us free and heals our sinful drives. And thus, like the crowds in today’s Gospel, we become increasingly astounded, we glorify God and can say with conviction “I have never seen anything like this!”
Can you do and say this? Do you experience this? This is the normal Christian life and the fourth milestone on the highway to heaven.
Four mileposts on the Highway to heaven.
Here’s the old Gospel classic: “Highway to Heaven”