No One Should Suffer Alone

jesus-heals-paralyzed-manOne of the challenges of being American is that we have been marinated in the pungent spices of individualism. We sing that we can go our own way. We declare that we will do it our way. We value making our own choices. We talk about taking ownership. We won’t believe the verdict of a jury until we’ve seen the evidence for ourselves and made up our own mind.

This way of talking and thinking and feeling is so ingrained, that to challenge it sounds repugnant and offensive. And so, when others seek our support and truly want us to say what we think, we side-step the request by saying that we’ll support them and then add, “But you must make your own decision.” And, most distressing of all, when we see someone incapable of making their own decisions, especially about medical procedures, we are paralyzed, and wonder about their quality of life.

But it also has introduced into us a spiritual problem. And that spiritual problem is that we believe we must deal with our struggles, our hardships, our adversities all by ourselves, on our own. And so, when life is hard, we want to be left alone. When we grieve, we want to go off by ourselves and be alone with our thoughts. When life presses hard, we want to work it out on our own. And this also paralyzes us. It can too often lead to a spiritual paralysis.

The man in today’s Gospel is paralyzed. Not just physically paralyzed, but also spiritually paralyzed. Perhaps he’s paralyzed by despair. For the feeling that there is no hope, the paralysis that comes from not wanting to seek God, is a spiritual problem, a deadly sin, known as acedia or akedia. Or perhaps the paralytic is paralyzed by unbelief—by the feeling that God can’t or won’t help. Or perhaps he is paralyzed by anger—by the passion that God is against me, that He has done this.

Paralyzed persons cannot move. They need to be moved. They need someone else to move them.

What is most amazing about this episode is not that the paralyzed man walks. What is most amazing is that he is not allowed to wallow in his own self-pity, that he’s not permitted to work it out on his own, that he’s not given a choice. Instead, his friends pick up his bed, without asking his permission, and they carry him to Jesus and set him at Jesus’ feet. For his friends know at least this: that it is not good for man to be alone; to grieve alone; to suffer alone. And they also know that we don’t always know what is best for us; and that the man who doctors himself has a fool for a doctor.

These friends do not think much of individualism—especially when it comes to their friend. Instead, they think, “He is one of us. And we’re in this together. So it is good—it is best and most loving—that we take it upon ourselves to help him, but not letting him deal with this by himself alone.”

That’s what parishes are all about. No one is permitted to work out his salvation by himself alone. We do so together. We fast together. We pray together. We work together. We love together. And most of all, we commune together. For when we receive the Eucharist, we are declaring the end of our individualism; we are declaring that we are bound to each other. That, not me, but we, are one.

And that idea does not come from nowhere. It comes from Our Lord Jesus Christ, who came into our flesh, in order to bind our flesh to His flesh; in order to take all the “ones” and make us one in Him. And this He does because this is who He is—the One who is so tightly bound in love to His Father and His Spirit that we must confess that the three are not three, but one.

It should not surprise you, then, when you hear that Our Lord heals the paralyzed man because he sees the faith of the man’s friends. For what Our Lord sees is that this man is not alone, and is not allowed to struggle alone. What Our Lord sees is this man already has a community—a community that loves him enough to share his struggle by carrying it to the Lord. What Our Lord sees in these friends is the Church, and the prayers and merits of the Saints who support us and carry us and show us Jesus. And what Our Lord sees is His own work—His work of love, which lives for the good of another, and which binds us together as one.

Rightly then does Christ regard the faith of those who brought the paralyzed man. And rightly does He overlook the despair, the folly, the self-pitying pride, the individualism, and the lack of faith of the spiritually paralyzed. And so, because of the faith of others, Our Lord willingly, cheerfully, and gladly offers healing for the soul and body by pronouncing His forgiveness.

By the prayers of the Saints, and of all those who pin their hopes to Him, may Our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.