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FRIDAY HOMILY: How Far Will You Go For a Friend?
By Fr. Randy Sly
January 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
There was a paralytic in the town who obviously needed the healing
ministry of the Lord. While he could do nothing about it himself, four
friends wanted to be sure the man received the touch he needed and
carried him, stretcher and all, to the house.
Earlier in the week, we read the account in Mark's gospel where Jesus was staying in Capernaum, which had become his center of ministry. It was there that he healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law. This event set off a cavalcade of other miracles as the whole town brought the sick as well as those tormented by demons. The people were in awe of his ministry and returned the next day for more.
Jesus, however, had risen early and gone out to a deserted place to pray. When His disciples found him, they remarked that the people were again waiting for him to lay hands on others. Instead, he told Peter and the others that they were to go to some of the other towns and preach.
Today's reading picks up at the point of His return and the town was ready. Again, the home where he was staying was surrounded by the needy. So many were there that you couldn't even get through the door.
There was a paralytic in the town who obviously needed the healing ministry of the Lord. While he could do nothing about it himself, four friends wanted to be sure the man received the touch he needed and carried him, stretcher and all, to the house.
Arriving at the home, they couldn't get the man close to Jesus. This is where the story gets interesting! Undaunted by the crowd, the men somehow got the man on to the roof of the house, created an opening in the tiles and lowered the stretcher in front of the Lord.
The Gospel goes on to say, "When Jesus saw their faith."
He went on to use this man's situation as an opportunity to underscore His divinity, forgiving the man's sins as well as healing his sickness.
I am always captivated by the faith and perseverance of the men who carried their friend. Take a moment and imagine what they must have done to provide their friend with the gift of healing.
Not only did they have to carry him through the streets of Capernaum to the home where our Lord was staying. They then had to lift him up on to the roof of the house.
The modest dwellings of Capernaum would look nothing like our modern homes. Most were square and normally only story - or sometimes two. They usually had a stairway leading to the flat roof, which was often used as a patio.
So, finding their way through the crowd to the stairs and then bringing their friend along, they would have had to find ropes, dig out an opening in the tiles and then let him down. What an ordeal that must have been!
I can picture the scene from inside the home. As Jesus is teaching, he and the crowd look up to see sunlight streaming through a new opening the men have made. As they continued to watch, a stretcher appears in the opening and is carefully lowered by four ropes, making sure the man isn't kept level at all times.
The rest, as they say, is history.
So, how far would I go for a friend? Would I have taken up one of the poles of the stretcher and carried my colleague to the Lord? Seeing a large crowd, would I have suggested we turn back or look for a way? Had I heard that the savior was returning to the city, would my first thought be that my paralyzed pal needed to meet him?
1. We have something that others need
In Matthew 9:36, the evangelist writes, "At the sight of the crowd, [Jesus] was moved with compassion for them because they harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." The phrase "moved with compassion" really describes an actual physical response to what He saw. In today's language we might say that "He was gripped in His gut."
What troubled Jesus was the condition of people who were being harassed by the circumstances of life that were coming against them, while having no inner strength to withstand the pressure.
I can still remember a science class when I was in elementary school, where we took a vacuum pump and removed all of the air from a gasoline can. This was not one of our modern plastic cans but a steel container. As the air was evacuated from the container, it was as though an invisible hand had taken hold of the object and was squeezing it. In the end all that was left was a crumpled lump of metal. That was an image to true helplessness!
While cultures and technologies have changed since the times of our Lord, humanity is not any better off. We are still harassed and helpless, especially in the area of our spiritual life. As Isaiah wrote, "All we like sheep have gone astray. Each one has turned to his own way." (Is. 53:6)
Each one of us is surrounded by harassed and helpless people. We see them at work, in our neighborhood, at the mall - and often in our own families. As Catholic Christians we possess a grace that each of them needs to truly live.
It is only when we look at other's lives through the lens of the gospel that we see their true condition. From the outside, many people look just fine; they have good jobs, stable incomes and active involvement on a number of fronts.
While their exterior may appear wonderful, they feel dead on the inside. What is really needed is a deep and profound encounter with God. As our Holy Father once said, "How many people also in our time are in search of God, in search of Jesus and of his Church, in search of divine mercy, and are waiting for a 'sign' that will touch their minds and their hearts!"
There are so many who are looking for something that will make a difference in their lives and they are looking for more than just attending a Mass or a meeting. In the seventeenth century, French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal coined a phrase that describes this lack when he said, "There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus."
For many of us, it's hard to believe that people need what we have. We take our faith fore granted, not aware that others are like that paralytic on the inside.
Perhaps the first step is to take a look at our own relationship with the Lord. Back in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of pilgrims in Rome, "Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians... Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world."
2. We can become an instrument God uses
In recent years we have heard a lot about the terms "evangelization" and the "new evangelization." Both Blessed John Paul II, who coined the latter phrase in 1983, and Pope Benedict have emphasized the importance of sharing our faith with others. They are calling us to be stretcher carriers for those who need a healing touch; this is evangelization.
Often, when we think of evangelization, we picture people going door-to-door, handing out pamphlets, or trying to engage total strangers in a theological discussion about their soul. Such visions bring about a sense of dread and discomfort.
Not only does this sound awkward but it also seems overwhelming. We wonder what to do if people ask hard questions. As stretcher carriers, we are not expected to be catechists or apologists.
For the most part, evangelization, as St. Peter described it in his first letter, simply involves being ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within (I Pt. 3:15). Through our baptism, this is our call in this new missionary age.
We can simply share our hope in the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ for our redemption and the difference that He has made in our life right now. As a stretcher carrier, we are called to bring people before Christ and leave the results with Him.
3. We must watch for divine opportunities.
One of the greatest single barriers to helping another come close to our Lord involves the issue of inconvenience. Our schedules can be so hectic and our lives already stressed. Yet, we have a call to get involved in others lives and it might get a little messy.
In our Gospel reading for today, the friends of the paralytic showed an example of true commitment to the needs of another when they headed up to the roof and dug a hole for the stretcher. They showed a determination many of us can emulate.
They also illustrated something else - an eye for opportunity.
Several months ago a friend of mine was speaking at a local chapter meeting of the Catholic Business Network. As a successful business owner, he shared in principle and example how he integrated his faith into his professional life.
One area that he highlighted was the opportunity for evangelization and I really appreciated his perspective. He shared how would approach every acquaintance and relationship from the standpoint of looking for a divine moment. He had noticed how often openings were presented where he could share something about his personal faith without being pushy.
"Watch for those divine moments," he would say. "When they come, simply plant a seed. If someone shares a problem, tell him or her you will be praying. If another expresses displeasure with their quality of life, simply comment about the importance of Christ in your life or invite them to go with your to a church event."
We have what people need - a relationship with Jesus Christ and can be used mightily to bring people to a personal faith if we make ourselves available and look for opportunities - those divine moments - when we can share.
In his apostolic exhortation, "Verbum Domini," Pope Benedict talks about the importance of our proclamation of the "Logos of hope." Here he reminds us that God has a human face and loves us with an everlasting love. Such a message is truly a great gift to the world. "We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. ... It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God's grace, we ourselves have received."
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus."
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