Chaplain's Comments

The classic African proverb, 'it takes a village to raise a child' stresses the need for community support in raising children. It also applies equally well to the task of caring for the ill or the dying. The words offer a beautiful image, reminding us to form communities of care and concern around us. As we celebrate, World Day of the Sick, we start with prayer, always bringing the ill before Jesus. Imitating those gospel caregivers, we work together, creatively, so that no one suffers needlessly.

Working in challenging conditions, the gospel story of the healing of the paralytic shows us that caregivers become creative as they work together to bring the best possible care. In the complex world of medical system, this team work is essential. Sometimes, one end of the mat falls to the floor, and patients fall through the cracks in the system. Blame and guilt can spark frustration and fuel discussions that do not honestly address the issues of a stressed medical care system. We are invited together as people of faith and hope to trust that God will bless our sincere intentions and best efforts to care for the sick.

Reflecting on Mark's Gospel as the first one in the New Testament to be written, today's extract could be the earliest evidence we have of intercessory prayer, or better still, intercessory action. The crowd around Jesus is so packed, that the friends of the man with paralysis get creative and, literally, go in over the top. There is no sense in today's Gospel of 'we shouldn't or, 'we can't'. There is only boldness in presenting the man before Jesus. Imagine if his friends didn't do this, he might never have known Jesus' healing touch.

There have been moments when we have all felt desperate. Sometimes when we are ill in mind, body or spirit, or worse still, when someone we love is in a similar state, we can have bloodied hands from banging on the doors of heaven, asking for God to do a miracle.

In today's Gospel Jesus heals the man dramatically presented before him by his friends. While the physical restitution was the most obvious, it would not have been the only part of the man Jesus healed that day. We can imagine the memories and other afflictions that would have accompanied the man's paralysis. There would have been emotional and spiritual restoration as well.

So to us. If, for all our efforts, our actions and prayers are not answered the way we would like, we can be left feeling abandoned and forgotten by God. It is not a cop out, however, to console ourselves with the thought that maybe what we are seeking is the wrong gift from God, either for ourselves or the one for whom we are praying. There are many types of paralysis, equally crippling, and not all of them are physically obvious.

Whatever of the matter of the request we place before Christ, today's story informs us about Jesus' attitude toward our suffering. Jesus initially tells the man 'Go, your sins are forgiven.' Later he says, 'Get up, pick up your mat and walk.' In first century Palestine, both statements were almost identical. To us, these statements are vastly different. In Jesus' time all illness was a curse from God because of sin. Jesus counters this belief by saying that no illness is from God, no suffering is sent to us because of sin.

How many of us need to hear this? After years of thinking our own paralysis has come about because God is punishing us, this Sunday we hear the Lord say, 'Get up, pick up your mat and walk.' This does not necessarily mean our problems will not need attention in the future. This side of death we are always unfinished creations, God's 'work in progress. But we are reminded that it is always Christ's desire to make us well and whole on every level where we need healing and peace. We also see the power of friends who support and pray for us and lay our needs before God. What an act of unselfish love intercessory prayers and actions really are.

Friends, may we leave behind the Christian heresy that holds that God uses spiritual, mental or physical pain to get even with us. In its place may we hold onto the image that whatever our paralysis might be, whatever our mat might look like, and with the support of selfless friends and gospel caregivers, may we think "outside the box", open our hearts and willing spirit, to new possibilities and new ways of seeing things, and thus to recognise his presence among us and may we rise up and walk into freedom and new life.

Gaetan Pereira
College Chaplain