We are going to read Mark Chapter 2, quite possibly –according to some scholars– part of a homily preached by Saint Peter.
And when [Jesus] returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12)
A sick man taken by his friends to the presence of Jesus
Jesus is back “home” which is not his family abode in Nazareth but Peter’s home in Capernaum. The house of the fisherman has become the center of Jesus’ activities in the land. That is obviously a figure of the Church.
The house is filled with people who want to hear the Teacher. There is no more room inside the house and there is another crowd blocking the entrance, all of them trying to hear what Jesus has to say.
Four men come carrying a friend in a cot. They try in vain to appeal to the crowd to make room for the paralytic. Their faith is such that they don’t doubt that, if they can reach Jesus, the Master will be able to cure the poor sick man. They try one entrance and then another to no avail. The paralyzed man is taken to and fro until his friends decide to climb to the roof, remove part of it right above the place where Jesus is standing and lower the cot.
Their faith in Jesus’ healing powers moves him to say “Your sins are forgiven!” But some of the men inside, presumably scribes who knew the law thought “in their hearts” that the sin forgiving business was a bit too much. “Blasphemy!” they silently thought “Only God can forgive sins!” Before they could utter a word, Jesus responds to their inner thoughts:
“Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” (Mark 2:8-11)
Now, in Mathematics there is something called the Transitive Property of Equality which is often exemplified as: If a = b and b = c , then a = c . If “only God can forgive sins”and Jesus in effect forgives sins, then Jesus is God or, at the very least, he is operating miracles and forgiving sins with divine permission and support. The scribes rushed to deny the divinity of Jesus manifested before their very eyes: the sign is too strong for them. Later on they will double down in their incredulity by making the observation: “Jesus ordered this man to carry his cot on the Sabbath and that is work.” They can’t see the higher authority revealed by the miracle but they can pinpoint at an alleged violation of the day of rest.
The others in the crowd, although uneducated and rough, still can make use of common sense and exclaim: “We never saw anything like this!” while giving glory to God. That is an important difference because this brief chapter of Mark deals with two important teachings intertwined in the text, almost hidden: the communion of saints, and the world renewed by the Holy Spirit at the end of this age.
The communion of saints is easily detected in the loving work of the four friends that carry the paralyzed man. Nothing will stop them. They take the man to the top of the house and then through the roof to reach Jesus. Those fast friends are a parable of our communion in Christ. United in love we will reach His Throne and there His love will be our love also, and all will be well.
The renewal of the world by the Holy Spirit is often compared to a thousand-year day of rest, a long Sabbath where mankind will be cured from the effects of sin.
Out of compassion He called Matthew
He went out again beside the sea; and all the crowd gathered about him, and he taught them. And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus [St. Matthew] sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)
The paralytic man was a sample of the physical renewal of mankind but now Mark presents us with Matthew, a Jew collecting taxes for the Romans. (See Matthew 9:9) Not exactly a popular guy. Matthew is the anglicized form of Matteus, the Latin form of the Hebrew name Matityahu, meaning “a gift from God” or “God’s grace” — I am sure the irony of the name’s meaning was not missed by the poor Jews who were taxed to death by Matthew Levi.
When some objected to his new friendship with Matthew, Jesus pointed at the need to cure the man. His body was healthy but his soul needed a renewal. Again, in the Great Sabbath, when the renewal of the world arrives, our cure will be complete. The body and soul of every member of mankind will be renewed completely in the greatest act of mercy that the universe has ever known since Calvary.
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.” (Mark 2:18-21)
Well those Pharisees and Scribes were real barrels of fun, weren’t they? Sinners are repenting, paralytics are walking, and there is that new Rabbi that can read thoughts! but they concentrate their attention on the lack of fasting.
There is no fasting because there is a wedding in progress, a new alliance, a covenant. That calls for sacrifice and eating a meal in union. Hidden here is the greatest meal of them all: the Eucharist.
One day the Eucharist will be taken away from Christians, in fact that has been happening in some locations. Either by persecution or by the effects of abandoning the teachings of Jesus, many are deprived from the Bread from Heaven. One day, near the end of the age, the Eucharist will almost disappear from the world. In a reversal of that first apparition at Emmaus when Jesus disappeared but the Blessed Bread remained, the Blessed Bread will disappear thus secretly calling the parousia, the Second Coming of Christ.
One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck ears of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)
Here we find Jesus pointing at the future common priesthood and kingship of the Church, a family of “priests and kings” that will inhabit the renewed world. (see Revelation 5: 9-10) David is the first of the dynasty of kings that will produce the Messiah, the Christ. In the passage quoted (1 Samuel 21:1-6) he partakes of the Zevakh Ha’Todah, the bread offering reserved for the Levite priests. [Hebrew zevakh hatodah זֶבַח הַתֹּודָה ] That is the bread of thanksgiving, a prophetic model of the Eucharist.
Here Jesus presents a new teaching: that in the future, the sacred things will be made available to common men. He is pointing at the renting of the veil separating God from mankind. Christ’s own sacrifice on the Cross will make that possible.
A new world, a new wine
The not so hidden teaching of this chapter of Mark is clear. Christ has come to his realm and He is inspecting mankind. Some are ready for the kingdom but some cannot bear its revelation. The “old wine skins” cannot contain the new wine.
The world after Adam’s sin is infused by the spirit of the devil. His malignancy is everywhere manifested in envy, egoism, selfishness, hate, and the absence of the justice and love of God. The New World that Jesus comes to deliver is the exact opposite: a world infused by God’s love and justice. Some men can’t possibly learn to live in the love of God. They don’t belong to Him and they don’t belong in His New World.
“… no one puts new wine into old wine skins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.” (Mark 2:22)
The “communion of the saints and eternal life in the world to come” are articles of the Catholic faith that we cannot deny. If we belong to Jesus, we belong in his new world. There is no way for mankind to succeed in creating a human version of this new world. The “worker’s paradise” or the “new world order” are condemned to failure because the sap of Christ’s vine is not running through them.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:15)
The very first miracle of Christ was to turn water into wine. He chose to use the water of purification to point at the purifying effect of the Holy Spirit. The one pointing Him at the need for wine was Our Blessed Mother. At the end of the age, it is her who will point to her Son what is lacking in the world:
When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3)
It does not take great perspicuity to see that the world is out of aces. We are seeing the situation deteriorate daily. The sap that used to keep this world going is drying up. Selfishness and hate cannot motivate the world forever. The time for Christ’s reign of love is almost due. He was telling the truth when he said: “And if those days were not cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matthew 24:22)
But the enemy of mankind and his human servants will not surrender their stolen world easily. The day when God will have to violently evict them is getting near. All kinds of signs were given to us to help us prepare for that day. Those signs are not there to scare us but to prepare our faith. We know that those who remained calm, trusting their life to God, will not lose their souls. Some will be preserved to fill the new world and prepare it for the resurrection of the flesh. The righteous will return as promised but first all evil has to be eliminated:
Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has power over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle on the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. (Revelation 14:18-19)
Wine, a Covenant, a Kingdom
“I have trodden the wine press alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my raiment.” (Isaiah 63:3)
“This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
Every day that passes we are one day closer to the day when we will drink His wine in the world that He has prepared for us.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is my Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
All scriptural quotes from Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition unless indicated otherwise.