Rev. Gerald D. Coleman, SS, Ph.D.
Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25; 2 Cor 1:18-22; Mk 2:1-12
Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was a tiny village in the mountains of south-central France. Most of the villagers were proud descendants of the Huguenots and remembered their own history of persecution. In 1942, under the leadership of the local minister and pastor, the citizens of Le Chambon risked their lives to hide Jews who were being rounded up by the Nazi SS for shipment to death camps. The Jews were hidden in private homes, local farms, and public institutions.
Whenever the Nazi patrols came searching, the Jews were hidden in the countryside. When the patrols left, the villagers would go into the forest and sing, letting the Jews know it was safe to come home. The citizens of Le Chambon also obtained forged identification and ration cards to help Jews cross the border to the safety of neutral Switzerland. The villagers of Le Chambon saved from three to five thousand Jews from certain death.
It was not until decades later that the villagers spoke of what they had done, and even then, only reluctantly. When asked, "Why did you do this?" they simply replied, "Because that is who we are."
Today's readings present challenges for us to remember who we are. In this light, Isaiah relates an astonishing mandate from God for Israel to "remember not" and "consider not" things of old. This was very unsettling as Israel's self-identity was rooted in the memory of its history: the bondage of Egypt, protection in the wilderness, led into a land overflowing with milk and honey. God was calling the people away from an inordinate dependence on the past, a dependence that prevented them from seeing the astonishing new thing that God was accomplishing before their very eyes.
In order to see who they were, they had to put aside the past in order to receive God's new graciousness in the present. What is most amazing is the transformation that takes place in the people. Though they had been sinners, the merciful God wipes out their guilt. They now will stand before others as forgiven, as re-created by God. This is who they are now.
Paul affirms this transformation by reminding us of the constant faithfulness of God. In Jesus, there is only "yes," only complete acceptance of God's will, only total faithfulness. This is what we are called to be, always faithful to God and always faithful to ourselves and others. Paul writes that God has put a seal on us, the mark of the Spirit, a pledge that as Christians we belong only to God. This is a guarantee of future blessings and a statement of who we are.
The Gospel story poignantly echoes these themes. A very large crowd, including some Scribes, came to hear Jesus preach. Clearly Jesus was intent on preaching, while some others interrupt His focus by insisting on healing. The ingenuity and persistence of the friends of the paralyzed man are remarkable. Even Jesus is impressed. Jesus speaks first of forgiveness, and only then of healing. In forgiving the man, Jesus performed the more difficult feat, and so to heal him was merely to make external the internal transformation that had taken place.
Jesus tells him to "take your mat and go to your home." The man stood up and "immediately took the mat and went out before all of them," causing nothing but amazement: "We have never seen anything like this!" The insistence of Jesus that the man take his mat home is significant. From that moment on, whenever the man looked at that mat, he would remember Jesus and the overwhelming transformation he had experienced. The mat was the reminder of who he now was.
These readings create challenging insights for today's health care environment:
First, the man who suffered from paralysis became an evangelizer both while he was afflicted and after he had been cured. Before the healing, he witnessed to his faith in Jesus by the mere fact of allowing himself to be brought to the healer. After he had been cured, his very presence announced the healing power of God. Those who suffer have much to teach us. They can be living examples of patience in the midst of pain and human dignity in the presence of diminishment. Who they are speaks of God's overwhelming ability to transform pain and suffering into renewed strength.
Second, Jesus was willing to be interrupted in order to attend to the healing of the paralyzed man. Good health care always demands a willingness to put aside our immediate agenda in order to bring healing to those in need. As with Israel, we cannot permit an inordinate dependence on the past to stand in the way of creating something new.
Third, the healed paralyzed man saw in the mat he took home a constant reminder of the incredible interior and exterior healing he experienced in the presence of Jesus. When patients leave Catholic health care services, they should be renewed in hope by remembering how Jesus touched them through the hands and hearts of their caretakers. Having had this experience, who they are becomes transformed.
Lastly, the four men who removed the roof in order to bring the paralyzed man to Jesus represent all of us. Who we are must translate into every effort to remove obstacles that stand in the way of healing. There are unfortunately so many, for example, physicians who will not take Medicare patients; access to healthcare for the uninsured and for the insured entry-level worker whose employer requires a disproportionate share of the worker's salary as a contribution for healthcare; access to healthcare for the families of the working poor; access to drug and alcohol rehabilitation for children and for seniors; advocating that health care is a right and not a privilege.
To the extent that Catholic health care continues to bring the healing and transformative presence of Jesus to everyone in need of treatment and care, Catholic health care clearly states "who we are:" an instrument to uphold human dignity in the face of physical, emotional, and spiritual diminishment.