Homily by Fr. Ruslan Babii on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 16, 2023
“The mission of the Church is to bring liberation to the world through the testimony of forgiveness and the new life that begins from it.” — Fr. Ruslan Babii.
The initiative for the encounter with Jesus came from the friends of the paralyzed man, while the man himself had already resigned to his helplessness, lost hope for healing, and became indifferent to his future. The faith of his friends contrasted with the despair of the sick man, and so Jesus turned to him, saying, “Take heart, son.” This carries good news for us as well. We cannot change or convert our friends and loved ones if they are closed off by their prejudices, blinded by their pains and disappointments, and filled with doubt and bitterness. However, our prayers and the testimony of our lives (if we ourselves are not weakened by sin) will lead them to Christ, and through our faith, He will act.
The paralyzed man was unable to control his body or move. Such a person is entirely dependent on others, and their entire world and existence are reduced to the bed on which they lie, to which they have been brought as an invalid. The feeling of helplessness, dependency, and the awareness of the hopelessness of their condition, often accompanied by bitterness and complaint, leads to complete apathy towards everything, including oneself.
The condition of being weakened is an accurate image of the effects and state of sin, which ruins and poisons a person’s life, transforming them into a mere existence, depriving them of their dignity and joy of life. Life itself becomes torment for them. Such a state is in complete opposition to God’s plan for humanity. The words “Take heart, son” are used to bring comfort and encouragement in difficult and hopeless situations, when all earthly hope is lost. At the same time, these words call for reliance on God and precede a miraculous rescue.
Being created in the image and likeness of God, a human being is a child of God. Sin, which manifested as distrust in God, disobedience, and transgression of God’s commandment, has marred this Image and affected the relationship between God and humanity. Sin has become a common state of humanity, depriving it of its original glory and fullness of life, distant from God’s intended plan. Sin increasingly enslaves a person, robbing them of strength and the will to change, spiritually paralyzing them: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:17–19). This vicious cycle is broken by the Lord through His forgiveness, restoring a person to their dignity as a child of God.
“Your sins are forgiven”: in Judaism, illness was often perceived as a sign of punishment and the consequence of the sick person’s own sin or the sin of their parents (“Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)). Therefore, no illness can be cured until the sin that caused it is forgiven. It is likely that the sick man himself viewed his illness as punishment for sin and had become disillusioned with both forgiveness and healing. Thus, healing, which is a return to wholeness and fullness of life, begins with forgiveness. Jesus presents Himself to us as the Savior of the whole person, as the Physician of our souls and bodies, first freeing us from the root cause of evil and suffering in the world — sin. The healing of the paralyzed man becomes a sign of this forgiveness.
“Some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘He is blaspheming’’ (Matthew 9:3), thinking that only God can forgive sins. Although it was recognized in Judaism that prophets could speak in the name of God, the scribes considered Jesus to be encroaching upon the authority that belongs solely to God. Since the words of forgiveness preceded the healing, they perceived them as empty and baseless, thus accusing Jesus of blasphemy. The healing confirmed that Jesus indeed possessed this authority.
“But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—’Rise, pick up your bed and go home’’ (Matthew 9:4). The authority of Jesus is also affirmed by His knowledge of what the scribes secretly discussed and thought in their hearts.
At times, God revealed the thoughts and intentions of people to His prophets. The Bible tells of many wonders performed by people such as Moses, Elijah, and Elisha, but none of them forgave sins. In this perspective, it is easier to say, “Rise and walk!” However, the point is that it is always easier to say than to do, especially if forgiveness does not have visible signs, if the word is not confirmed by action. Therefore, the miracle reveals the power and authority contained in the words of Jesus.
“The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”: this miracle confirms the divinity of Jesus and reveals His nature as the one to whom “was given dominion and glory and a kingdom… His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). The Jews awaited a King, an anointed one, who would deliver them from their enemies (such as the Romans and pagans in the time of Jesus) and bring prosperity and flourishing to their people. Amidst many disappointments with kings who did not possess such authority, they anticipated the One to whom this authority truly belonged and who could exercise it. And here comes Jesus to deliver them from the greatest enemy — sin, which paralyzes humanity and the individual — to overcome it and conquer death, whose fear keeps people in bondage.
Authority means having the right and power to do something. When encountering earthly authorities who abuse their positions for their own interests and exploit the weak and defenseless, we no longer equate authority with service. Authority becomes associated with the limitation of freedom because earthly power often relies on the force and yoke of sin: fear, envy, malice, cruelty, greed, lust, and so on. Jesus’ authority is a service that grants true freedom to the children of God, demolishing the bonds of sin through forgiveness. His authority heals and liberates anyone who receives it, who listens to His word.
“And he rose and went to his home”: signifies healing, restoration, and a return to life. In the New Testament, this verb is most commonly used when narrating Christ’s Resurrection. The man who was brought to Jesus, whose entire world and life were confined to his bed, which had become like a tomb for him, rises to new life — life in fullness. Therefore, it can be said that he returns to his home — to that fullness of life in God, which is the purpose of every human being and which was lost through sin.
“And when the crowd saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men”: the authority to forgive sins, the Lord would bestow upon His disciples (Matthew 18:18). The mission of the Church is to bring liberation to the world through the testimony of forgiveness and the new life that begins from it.