Our Lord Jesus Christ does not care only for the soul, but also for the body. It is not that He has simply redeemed the soul, but that He also concerns Himself with the physical health and well-being of our bodies, as we see today in the healing of the man with palsy. God is not content to create a heaven filled with disembodied spirits. No, He wants resurrection and perfection of our earthly bodies in glory. He wants us to live as we were meant to live from the very beginning, with both body and soul cleansed and freed from sin forever.
We have needed this cleansing because our bodies and souls are filled with corruption and sin. What God created in beauty and majesty, we have defiled with the sins of pride, greed, lust, indolence, intolerance, all manner of immorality. The list can go on and on. We have weakened our bodies and disfigured them by our sinfulness. But God is great and merciful. He gives us the means by which we can cleanse our souls and bodies, to strengthen and purify them. These means of which I speak are the Holy Mysteries or Sacraments, especially those of Confession and the Holy Eucharist.
Every day of our lives, we can see the results of sin in both soul and body. Sickness and illness come upon us, even tragic and serious afflictions such as the paralysis and palsy of the man we meet in the Gospel this morning. Eventually, our bodies die, reaping the harvest of the sins we have committed over our lifetime. This is one harvest, however, that we do not want to reap in abundance, for its fruit is bitter and unfulfilling. We can lessen the burden of this harvest at the time of our death by taking attentive care to the condition of our souls and bodies now, while we are alive, by watching what we do and what we say, by how we act toward ourselves and toward one another.
When Christ came and dwelled among us, he had no need to suffer our sicknesses and pain. The life of the sinless Son of Man could have been completely free of illness and suffering. Yet He came to take our lives upon Himself, to take upon Himself our sins, our diseases and our infirmities. Jesus is not insensitive to our condition and our suffering. He can sympathize with our weakness. More than that, He took upon Himself the death that His holy life did not deserve. He did not have to suffer death at all. He suffered it nonetheless, out of love for us.
Jesus looks upon each of us and is moved by compassion. He sees us paralyzed by sin and weakness, by temptation and the overwhelming attractions and allurements of the world. We now, and our ancestors before us, have always believed that we are perfectly fine by ourselves, even though we very infrequently seek to do good works before God. We are so delusional in our beliefs and self-understanding.
A physical paralytic knows his or her condition because it is very obvious. But we are spiritual paralytics. A spiritual paralytic is one who cannot see his or her illness and does not even belief they are ill. We cannot see that we do not walk in the way of righteousness, nor can we see that we do not lift up our hands to help our neighbor in ways that are pleasing to God. Our counterfeit works, even though they appear real to us, are not real works in the sight of the Judge of all mankind.
The paralytic who was brought to Jesus knew his condition, for he lived it in a physical way every day of his life. He knew not only his physical disability but his spiritual infirmity and sickness as well. St. Matthew tells us the man had faith. He did not merely have faith that Christ was a healer who could cure his paralysis. He also knew that he was a sinner, and depended upon God’s grace and mercy to heal him.
Christ heals the paralytic in both body and spirit. He gives the man absolution that erases the man’s sins forever. The He also heals the paralysis so that the man is able to walk perfectly well. See how great a miracle it is – the man fully regains the use of his limbs. He does not have to learn how to use them, nor does he have to exercise them for a time to reverse the weakness of atrophy. No, the man is fully capable of walking the moment Jesus speaks His mighty Word.
Jesus comes to us to heal our paralysis, especially our spiritual paralysis. The Absolution of Christ has been spoken upon us no less than it was spoken upon the paralytic and all the others Jesus healed while we walked on the earth. In the Holy Mystery of Confession, the very voice of Christ declares us forgiven from all our sins. This forgiveness, however, gives more than a mere cleansing from sin. It gives us also life and salvation. When we participate in the Holy Mystery of Confession we are freed from the deadly and dreadful effects of sin upon our body. Since we are absolved by Christ through His priest, our broken and ill bodies are healed and we are given the spiritual medicine we need to continue the good fight and our journey to Paradise. If we regularly avail ourselves of this spiritual medicine, we will see our bodies resurrected to eternal health.
Sometimes in this life, Christ gives us healing from the things that afflict us. Sometimes, he allows us to remain in our afflictions so that we may be purified and learn the important lessons we have chosen to ignore. But we know that whatever we suffer now is only temporary. Jesus will, eventually, speak to us in the grave and say, “Arise and walk!” That will happen, of course, only if we have sincerely tried to live a good life and are truly repentant of our sins. God’s mercy and forgiveness are not automatic. We must want them. There is no mercy without justice. God’s mercy and forgiveness are never withheld from those who truly want it and seek it and are repentant of their sins. If we are properly disposed, then when the Lord utters those words, “Arise and walk!” we will do exactly as He says for His Word is mighty and effective, even over death.
By the Holy Mysteries of Confession and the Eucharist, our spiritual paralysis and ills are cured, but we must maintain a solid regimen of spiritual and physical preventive medicine that is designed to keep us healthy. If we do this, we should be able to walk in the paths of righteousness because the Lord has caused us to rise up out of sin and live before Him.
By Christ’s death and resurrection we are freed from the curse of eternal death, which is the consequence of sin. But we must do our part. Our salvation is not automatic and guaranteed simply because Jesus dies and rose from the dead. We must remain pure and righteous and do works of service that are real and good and pleasing in the sight of God. Always, we should keep this distinction straight. It is not our actions in themselves that please God. If the very same works were done without faith, no matter how good the works looked to us, they would be useless and unclean in the Father’s eyes. Likewise, it is not the actions that earn the forgiveness of sins. On the contrary, we love much because He has forgiven us much. He Himself, through the power of His Gospel and His Spirit that always accompanies it, causes us to do the works that are pleasing.
So we are like the former paralytic. He got up and walked about, apparently under his own power. But it was the power of Christ that worked in his legs, causing him to move. We also do deed of mercy and compassion. Yet it is not our goodness that is seen, but the goodness of Christ working in us.
So the Gospel does both. It announces the Good News of life and salvation, and it calls us to repentance and change, providing us with a blueprint according which we can build and live righteous and holy lives that are pleasing in the sight of God. The Gospel also lifts us out of our paralysis and sets us in motion, which is sanctification, the work of the Spirit to make us do good works. Without the Gospel, the good works wither and become stunted and flavorless. They become dead works because they are done without faith.
But for those who have faith, you are fully alive by God’s grace. He has shown mercy to you and made you alive by water and the Spirit. He sustains you and strengthens you with His Holy Mysteries. He gives you, even commands you to do good works, not under the slavery of the Law, but in the wonderful freedom of the Gospel.
So listen carefully and pay attention to the voice of your Savior as He speaks to you and offers you His forgiveness. He is the One who took your flesh and redeemed it. He is the One who cared so much about your body and soul that He healed and redeemed both. He took both upon Himself, as he became man, possessing both human body and human soul while at the same time remaining fully God. He had to take on both in order to redeem both. He had to suffer in both upon the Cross. He suffered both physical and spiritual anguish far beyond our imaginations. Because He has done this, He has accomplished your healing, both physical and spiritual, both now and in the life to come; for what Christ does is always perfect, and He has saved you perfectly.
Jesus does not wait for you to come to Him, for that would be a very long wait indeed on the part of some of us. But, rather, He makes Himself available and present to us at all times in the Eucharist. He invites us to sit at table with Him and to partake of the heavenly and life-giving and life-changing divine feast. The door to the feast is never closed to those who hunger and thirst for the holy things of God; to those who hunger for God to come into their lives.
The paralysis of sin prevents us from going anywhere, least of all to Christ, your Savior. But Christ makes sure that loving people of faith are always here to carry you in your infirmity to Him for forgiveness and healing. There He will stand over you, paralyzed and helpless as you are, and say to you, “Your sins are forgiven you. Rise up and walk!.” So much power packed into so few words! Yet Christ speaks them with such great authority that even the devil Himself cowers in fear.
Christ gives His power and authority to forgive to men, to His bishops, and through them, to His priests. He has opened the floodgates of mercy and forgiveness so that salvation can flow like a mighty river to all.
What you have heard in this morning’s Gospel reading is the truth. Do not doubt this Word, for it is the very Word of Christ, as sure and certain as He is present among us this morning. God Himself has declared His mercy to you, the same mercy that His Son revealed and acted out upon the Cross, the same mercy that flowed in red rivers down His body on Calvary. This same mercy has come to your ears this morning and declared unto you the great and awesome power of God.