The Gospel for last Monday’s Mass (Monday of the Second Week of Advent) is the well-known story of the paralytic. There are many wonderful details that I could discuss (e.g., the four friends who bring him to Jesus—talk about great friends!), but I’d like to focus today on Jesus’ command: “Rise, take up your stretcher, and go home.” It is a small picture of the grace unto salvation offered to us by the Lord. Here is a man who is powerless to help or heal himself, so the Lord helps and heals him. Though “dead in his sins,” he now rises and lays hold of a whole new life.
This is a mid-Advent picture of why we need a Savior, and what He offers. Note three aspects of what Jesus says to the paralytic:
Rise – In other words, receive new life, new capacities. No longer be weighed down by weakness. Be set free. Rise to new life! When Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, he said to the bystanders, “Untie him and let him go free.” St. Paul says of us, “You were dead in your sins … but made alive through Christ” (Col 2:13). And thus the paralyzed man, once powerless to move or take control, is now strong and free. His paralysis represents our weakness, our spiritual palsy, our inability to walk uprightly and in justice. To all this, Jesus says, “Rise!” He bids us no longer to be in bondage to sin, Satan, the world, and the flesh.
Rule – The Lord tells the paralytic man to take up his stretcher. He wants him to take authority over that on which he once depended. Whatever crutch you once leaned on, be strong enough now to carry it; don’t lean on it any longer. If you once depended on sin for happiness, take authority over it now. If you once needed alcohol to calm your nerves, take authority over it now; don’t lean on it anymore. If you once depended on gossip and detraction to feel important, take authority over it. Don’t be dependent on any sin. By being healed, have the power to carry it off like a trophy of victory. While it is true that we will always need some help in this life, no longer should we be wholly dependent on anything or anyone in this world. The Lord has authority in our life and He grants us increasing authority over our passions, desires, struggles, and gifts. He tells us to take up the authority He has rightly granted us and command our soul in justice and truth.
Return – The Lord says to him, “Go home.” In other words, make your journey back to God, back to your true home in the heart of the Father. Sin had separated us from God and driven a wedge between us. But now the veil in the Temple has been torn from top to bottom. Through Jesus, we have access to the Father. Like prodigal sons, we are now heading home. Look off in the distance! It is the Father, running to us to greet us! By offering forgiveness for our sins, Jesus has opened the gates of Heaven and restored us to a right and just relationship with His Father. If we will accept this gift and celebrate it regularly, our return is well underway; it is just over the next hill (Calvary). And just beyond is the heavenly Zion. “I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘Let us go up to the House of the Lord!’”