2 Cor 1:18-22
[Note: The Gospel text is woven into the homily itself.]
Bishop Untener's Homily
Today's passage in Mark's Gospel - the story of the paralytic let down through the roof - is so fascinating that I decided to use it to talk with you about a very traditional form of prayer that is easily within our reach, is enjoyable, and which can open up the Scriptures for us in a remarkable way. It's called "Active Contemplation."
In "Active Contemplation" you take a Gospel passage and place yourself right there in the scene. You're not watching it from the outside. Instead, you're part of it. You can be one of the characters in the scene, or simply someone who is there, taking it all in, and who is experiencing first-hand the sights and sounds and smells. You feel free to add many details that are not given in the Gospels. But you see, before you begin you ask God to guide your imagination to give you a deeper awareness of the passage and some helpful insights. God directs us and remember, God speaks to us more than through our brain. So, you simply become part of the scene and see where it goes.
I'll use this Gospel passage to show you a sample of this form of prayer.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home.
The first thing we do is picture the town - Capernaum. Actually, we know quite a bit about it because they've discovered the ruins and excavated them. Capernaum was on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It wasn't a large town; it stretched out over about 500 yards.
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum and lived in the house cluster that belonged to Peter and his wife and mother-in-law, and his brother Andrew. We're only at the beginning of the second chapter of Mark's Gospel, but already Jesus has done some preaching in various places nearby. He's also cast out demons and healed people with various illnesses. He's just returned to Capernaum and word quickly gets around that this now famous teacher/healer is back "home". We use our imagination to picture the buzz around town and the reaction of different people there.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.
It doesn't take long for people to head over to the house where Jesus was living. It's interesting. Archaeologists are pretty sure they've located the house. One of the reasons is that a small church was built on the site in the fourth century, and apparently it was built to encompass the very room where this scene takes place. As best they can tell, the room was about 20 by 20 feet. It's now crowded with people, and they're strung out even to the doorway, some standing outside the house. We can picture Jesus in there preaching to the townspeople.
Then the scene switches to the outside. We're there to see what happens - in “Active Contemplation” we can place ourselves wherever we want.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him.
Picture these four men carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They're hoping that Jesus will cure the poor fellow. Perhaps they came all the way from the next town over. As they get close they see how large the crowd is, and they're disappointed. They say to one another, "We'll never be able to get in there." At this point we might stop for a moment and think about something we've perhaps never thought about before, namely, that we never have to face that problem. We always have direct and immediate access to Jesus - any time, any place. That's quite a gift.
The men talk things over and one of them gets the idea that they could go up on the roof and get through to Jesus that way. So, with some difficulty they manage to climb the ladder leading up there. It takes a while because they're carrying this fellow on the mat.
The roof is a thatched roof supported by some small wooden beams. It's covered with mud to seal it when the rains come. They begin to dig through the mud and the reeds and straw.
Imagine what it's like to be down below inside the room. You start to hear noise right above you on the roof. Jesus notices it too, and stops speaking. He's looking up like everyone else, puzzled.
After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
Imagine what it was like when the hole in the roof was wide enough, and they start lowering right into the middle of the room a mat on which was lying a paralyzed man. It caused quite a commotion. You picture Jesus' reaction, and you wonder what he'll say.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.'
Now that's an unexpected twist. Already in his ministry Jesus had healed people. You figure that right away he'd try to heal this man. But no. Instead, in a very kind tone of voice, he tells the man that his sins are forgiven!
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?'
Some of the religious experts were part of the crowd, and you can see them start to frown and whisper a few things to one another. Healings are possible, yes. But no human being can forgive sins.
Jesus notices them too and, not one to hold back, he speaks to them. [Picture how he looks when he speaks. His tone of voice.]
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, ‘Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Rise, pick up your mat and walk"?
I stop for a minute and think about the question Jesus just asked the scribes. Which is easier? Jesus is clearly saying that it's easier to forgive sins - because just to prove he can do that, he's going to do something even harder, namely, cure the paralytic.
That's an intriguing thought. You and I can't go around curing people. But we can forgive other people. And I remember that Jesus said we should do it, and do it often - 70 times 7 times. It's a great gift. I'd cure people if I could, anywhere. Anytime. Why don't I forgive people?
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth - he said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.'
This is high drama. Jesus is first looking at the scribes and speaking to them. Then he turns to the paralyzed man lying flat on the ground and tells him to stand up, pick up his mat, and walk across the room and right out the door. Can you imagine how breathlessly still the room is when Jesus says this? Will this man actually be able to stand... and walk??
He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.'
What a sight to see. The people (except the scribes) probably broke into applause and shouts. They're excited and happy, and start going off in all directions to tell their friends what just happened. And Jesus is there alone. So I go over and talk to him about all this.
I tell him that as I watched, I was intrigued by some kind of connection between sin and paralysis. We've all got our "regular sins" - and I mean more than things that are technically "sins". I mean weaknesses that we'd really like to overcome. For example, eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much. Or, a short temper. Or, procrastination - putting things off that I ought to do. Or, some broken relationships that I should do something about. Or trying simply to do more than just a mediocre job in my occupation. Or getting some help that I know I need.
Why don't we do something about these things? It's like we're paralyzed. We've got the know-how inside us, or we know how to get it. And we've got the will power, but when it comes to some things, we just can't seem to get anything moving. It's like we're paralyzed.
I ask Jesus not only to forgive my sins... but also to heal my paralysis... so that I can do something about the parts of my life I want to change. We talk.
Well, that's a sample of the way of praying called "Active Contemplation" - except that you, not I, would be the one supplying the details, and you could take it in any direction the Lord seems to draw you.
Give it a try. You may want to do it later today or during the week with this same Gospel passage. Or, pick out one of your own. It's a great way to pray.
Originally given on February 23, 2003