And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” – He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12)
Looking at Mark 2:1-12, one question that comes to mind as suggested by the text itself is “What was the purpose of Christ healing the paralytic?”
The answer is that Jesus wanted to prove he had the power to forgive sins. The miraculous healing was completely secondary for Christ. Jesus responds to the faith of these men by pronouncing forgiveness of sins to the paralytic. Jesus only heals the paralytic to prove to the people that He really did have power to forgive sins. While we often are so impressed with the miraculous and seek out miracles, Christ offers a deeper mystery – the forgiveness of sins so that we can be in union with God.
We find a similar idea in Exodus with why Moses before the Passover performed miracles both for the Egyptians and for the Jews in Egypt. The goal was to bring people to faith, to recognize that God in fact had spoken to Moses. The miracles of the plagues though spectacular for Hollywood were secondary to his goal.
So in Exodus 4:1-9, the miracles God commands Moses to do are not the main point at all. The miracles are to get the Jews to believe Moses really is sent by God and to get Pharaoh’s attention so he will let the Israelites leave Egypt. Moses did not go to Egypt to be a miracle worker but to be a prophet. He would use the miracles to accomplish his real goal. So we read in Exodus 4, Moses pleading with God that he doesn’t want to go to Egypt because he doubts the Jews will believe him anyway.
Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.'” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” And he said, “Cast it on the ground.” So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.
But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand, and take it by the tail” —so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand— “that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand into your bosom.” And he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back into your bosom.” So he put his hand back into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or heed the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or heed your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it upon the dry ground; and the water which you shall take from the Nile will become blood upon the dry ground.”
At first the miracles had the effect on the people God wanted:
Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. And Aaron spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken to Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped . (Exodus 4:29-31)
At least at first they believed in Moses and the Lord, but when things started to get rougher for the Jews in Egypt, they quickly turned against the miracle worker Moses. Note: God wasn’t telling the people to start chasing miracles. The miracles were to lead them to believe Moses was sent by God. But as soon as the people began to suffer they immediately abandoned the miracle worker. So God tells Moses:
Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment, and I will take you for my people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel; but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel bondage. (Exodus 6:6-9)
Moses performed his miracles so that the people might believe that He actually was sent by God. Jesus does miracles for the same reason, and the people turned against Jesus just like they turned against Moses. And, often we act like we are only interested in more miracles, not really interested in being disciples of Jesus because that is too demanding and hard. We behave just like Israel. We want the miracles but don’t want to follow God if it means life might be difficult.
Jesus comes and asks us to follow Him, and He shows us miracles as a sign to follow Him as He is leading us to God’s Kingdom. But so often we are more interested in the miracles than in following Christ. Christ opens the kingdom of heaven to us and we don’t care as long as we have some miracles and magic in our life. Christ’s miracles however are meant as signs pointing to the important reality which is God’s Kingdom.
Just as Moses would lead Israel out of Egypt into the desert on the way to the promised land, so Jesus calls us to follow Him, and to turn away from all of the allurements and attractions and pleasures of the world in order to find our way to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus offers us the forgiveness of our sins as a sign to follow Him in a new direction, to become the human beings God has created us to be.
When we come to confession, Christ asks each of us: “what do you want me to do for you?” This is a question He asked several people before healing them. Ask yourself: What do I need from Christ? What do I want from Christ as I confess my sins? If the answer is “nothing, I’m just fulfilling my obligation”, then we will receive nothing for sure. Do we want forgiveness of our sins? Do we want healing of our souls? Do we want to be cleansed of our sins? Do we want Christ to abide in our hearts? Do we want to be able to forgive others? Do we want to move in a new direction in life? Do we want to move toward the Kingdom of God? Do we want to be able to love others as Christ loves us?
St Gregory Palamas taught that our heart is a mirror, but a very special and unusual mirror for if we look into the mirror of our heart it is possible to see God. Partially it is possible since each of us is created in God’s image and likeness.
The search for God thus begins in our own heart we don’t have to go somewhere to see God, not to Jerusalem or Mecca or Kathmandu or Mt Athos. The journey to God is accessible to each of us because as it turns out being created in God’s image means we carry God within ourselves. We actually also carry the journey to God in our own hearts.
In this thinking, sin is our ceasing to look for God in the inner mirror of our heart. When we cease looking into the mirror of our heart to see God, what do we see? We gaze upon our self. We find a selfish joy of making our self the object of our spiritual search, our vision, our dream. We become self-centered narcissists. What’s good for me? What’s in it for me? What do I get out of it? What do I want? How will this affect me?
I remember a number of years ago reading the story of a student whose best friend had died. And what question did this young man ask? . . . . . . . – how could God let this happen to me? He wasn’t even concerned how the death affected his best friend, he was only concerned about how his friend’s death affected himself. That is certainly what happens when we cease to carry God in our hearts.
As we continue our sojourn through Great Lent, we are to remember our search is for God. We began Great Lent forgiving each other so that God would forgive us our sins. And then we realize that the forgiveness of our sins is a sign that Jesus Christ is Lord and He has opened the Kingdom of Heaven to us, so we should follow Him. Miracles are given to us as a sign pointing to the kingdom of God. We aren’t seeking signs, we are seeking the Kingdom.