5 July
Mt 9:1-8

After getting into a boat Jesus crossed the water and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralysed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ Then some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.’ And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

Fergus Kerr OP wrote a highly significant book entitled Theology after Wittgenstein (first published in 1986),in which he identified two great pathologies of the western mind: 1. the divide between the individual and the community, and 2. the divide between body and mind; and he showed how Wittgenstein’s philosophy represents the healing of these divides. 

In today’s gospel reading we see how close this is to the healing work of Jesus.  In the story we see both of these divides being bridged by Jesus. 

  1. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic....”  He did not enquire about the paralytic’s own faith.  Peter Chrysologus had this to say: “God does not inquire into the wants of those who are deliriously ill.... A doctor does not inquire into or examine the wishes of such a patient.”  The point, I think, is that we are always a community of faith.  For about four centuries now the western world has laboured under philosophies that are profoundly individualistic; all meaning is thought to repose in the individual rather than in the society or even the family.  It was on this basis that the theory of Limbo (only recently disowned by the Church) was constructed.  Even new-born babies, dying at birth or soon after, were thought to be on their own before God; the faith of their parents had no bearing on their destiny, and they could not be buried in consecrated ground.  This, even though St Paul, writing about marriage between believers and unbelievers, had written: “The unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Cor 7:14).  We need not imagine that we have entirely cast off the individualistic mindset. 

 

  1. The other great divide in western philosophies has been that between body and soul (or, depending on the particular interest, body and mind, or body and spirit).  St John Chrysostom (4th century) wrote, “[Christ] heals the paralysis in both soul and body. The healing of the soul is made evident through the healing of the body, even while the body still remains a creature crawling on the ground.”  Central to the Christian faith is the affirmation that the Word became flesh.  It is amazing that a portion of the world shaped in large measure by the Christian faith we should ever have been tempted to divide body and spirit.  But that is what we inherited and passed on. 

The two great divides were expressed together in a leaflet that was handed out at a parish mission in my childhood.  On it were written the words: “Remember, man, thou hast but one soul to save.  And after that, the judgment.”  (There were no women in the world in those days!)  There is no mention of community.  No life of the body.  Just one soul.  And the appeal to fear rather than to love.  It was a far cry from St Paul’s teaching that we are the body of Christ and members of one another: see Col 1:18; Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:13).  Pius XII attempted to reinvigorate this teaching in 1943 in an encyclical letter entitled Mystici Corporis.  "The unbroken tradition of the Fathers from the earliest times,” he wrote, “teaches that the Divine Redeemer and the Church which is His Body form but one mystical person, that is to say, the whole Christ."  We still have much need for healing at these two sick places of the soul. 

 
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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 

 

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