Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: Bringing Friends to Jesus

This was my homily for yesterday. It had a lot to do with the topic of friendship and how God is incarnate in our friends — that’s just been on my mind and heart a lot lately, and this Gospel just really spoke to that.

I can hardly believe it but we’re just now into the second chapter of Mark’s Gospel. All this time since Christmas, we’ve been reading from Chapter one. And if you’re like me, Christmas seems like a long time ago now. If we look back at what we’ve heard in these weeks since Christmas, we probably remember a lot of healings that Jesus did. And today is no exception from that. Today, Jesus heals a man who was suffering from paralysis. What is interesting about Jesus’ healing of the paralytic is that his first effort is not to heal the paralysis, but to heal something that is perhaps even more paralyzing in his life and in ours: sin.

The whole exchange here between Jesus and the scribes is interesting for two reasons. First, it shows that they still don’t get it. For all of the healings he did, and as I said, we’ve heard a lot of them in the last few weeks; they still don’t quite understand what Jesus came to do. So Jesus says to the man, “your sins are forgiven.” In those days, if someone was ill or afflicted, it was thought to be the result of sin. So Jesus goes beyond just healing the physical paralysis—which is nothing more than a symptom of the problem—and goes right to the heart of the matter: he heals the brokenness in the man’s life that is the result of sin. Jesus was doing something much greater than anyone expected him to do. They just wanted the man to be healed physically; but Jesus goes them one better: he heals the man from the inside out. As Isaiah says in the first reading, God is doing something really new here, and they need to open their eyes and see it.

Second, it’s easy enough to say, “your sins are forgiven.” But it’s hard to know if that really happened, right? I mean, when your sins are forgiven, your hair doesn’t change colors. Sin doesn’t cause spots on your body that magically disappear when you’ve been forgiven. It’s hard to know what forgiveness of sins looks like, and this is part of the problem the scribes have with Jesus. He says, “Your sins are forgiven” easily enough, but how can they be sure he’s done anything? And they believed that forgiveness of sins was reserved to God alone. They were right about that, but they missed the fact that they were looking into the face of God. They just didn’t get it.

What strikes me most, though, about today’s Gospel, is the way the paralytic came to Jesus. He is carried by four of his friends. They bring him to Jesus for healing and are met with what must have been a pretty irritating obstacle. They couldn’t even get into the house where Jesus was preaching because of all the people crowded in there. There were so many people, they couldn’t even move a little to make an aisle to bring the man in. But they didn’t say to the man, “well, we tried; maybe we’ll come back another time.” No, they climbed up onto the roof, ripped a hole in it, and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus as he was preaching. Can you imagine the audacity of that? They destroyed a person’s roof and interrupted Jesus’ preaching. I just want to let you know that if that happens during today’s homily, we’ll be taking up a second collection to repair the roof… But the point is that these four very good friends did not allow a simple obstacle to get in the way of their desire to bring their friend to Jesus. They had come this far and weren’t about to give up so easily.

That got me to thinking about how friends can bring us to Jesus. I just finished final exams, thank God. One of my classes this past quarter was called “Friendship and the Moral Life.” In that class, we discussed the virtue of friendship. Friendship is a special kind of charity, or love, in which the two people in the relationship desire the Good of the other person most of all. This is not a friendship of utility where people are related because they can give each other a ride to work or something pragmatic like that. And it’s decidedly not some kind of misguided relationship where two people are “partners in crime.” This is the kind of relationship where two people encourage each other in the spiritual life and literally bring each other to Jesus. There are examples of this here and there in the saintly literature, most especially between St. Thérèse of Liseaux and Maurice, a seminarian. Through their relationship, Maurice was encouraged by Thérèse to stick with his formation for priesthood, and he was eventually ordained. And Thérèse herself admitted that their correspondence helped her to see her life in a different light and made her desire to be with Christ all the stronger. This kind of friendship is a gift from God, which we can all receive, but we must also nurture those friendships in our life.

This past week, between writing like a million pages of papers that were due in the last days of the quarter, I took some time to pack away some of the books on my shelves that I won’t be using in the next eight weeks. This coming quarter is my last one at Mundelein, and I wanted to get a head start on packing up so that I won’t have to move everything in May. When I was packing up those books, I came across a book of memories that was made for me by my friends at the place I worked before I went to seminary. I hadn’t seen that book in maybe five years, so I stopped to page through it. There were pictures and stories and notes from all of them. I laughed and I cried. But most of all I remembered all of the support and encouragement they gave me when I was getting ready to go to seminary. In some ways, I don’t think I’d be here now if it weren’t for them, and for the support of so many other friends and family who literally brought me to Jesus throughout my life, and in a special way while I was discerning my vocation. They literally brought me to Jesus, who was able to heal me of the paralysis I was having with regard to my vocation. As I think about all those folks, I realize with a great deal of humility how blessed I have been with that special kind of friendship that has always led me to Jesus.

Think of that for a moment. We are all called to bring each other to Jesus. That’s why God gives us our friendships. We have to be the people who challenge and support each other and help each other to grow. To what extent are our friendships like that? Supporting each other is generally easy to do, but how often do we challenge each other when the other needs it? I’m not talking about picking fights with each other, but rather of helping each other to become what God has called us to be.

And think too about the friends in your life. Who are those who have brought you to Jesus? Who are those who have challenged you to grow and supported you when you were hurting? Who are those who have pointed out and celebrated the gifts you have? Who are those who have pushed you to become something more than you could have on your own; something more than you ever thought you had potential to become? Maybe they were teachers or parents or family or classmates or coworkers or mentors. But whoever they were, they were that gift God gave you, and they were the people who ripped open the roof and lowered you down to Jesus so that he could heal whatever was paralyzing you in your life and keeping you from growing. Take a minute to think of them today, thank God for them, and as we offer our gifts at the altar today, place them before the altar that they too might be brought to Jesus in whatever way they need that today.

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