We hear about two strikingly different types of people in the Gospel lesson this morning. We are first confronted with the friends of the paralytic, who carried the dead weight of their brother on a bed in order to bring him to Christ. These were of course men of tremendous faith, who had one focus in that moment: to have our Lord make their friend and brother well.
In contrast to that, we have the Scribes, who were in the background watching. These Scribes (along with the Pharisees) were the preachers and teachers of the time. These were men who were very well respected. People would bow reverently when they passed them in the streets. They were constantly in the temple, and carried themselves with an aura of perceived holiness that had been built up in the Jewish culture for centuries.
When the paralytic was brought before Christ, nowhere in the Gospels does it say that a verbal request was made of our Lord for healing. In all of the Gospels, it simply says: “Jesus saw their faith” and raised him from his bed.
The well-respected scribes also didn’t utter a word. They simply stood there, not saying anything in protest. Our Lord looked up at them and revealed something that I think we all forget from time to time—God is omnipotent. He can peer into our hearts and uncover our innermost feelings! So rather than replying to words, Jesus responded to the scribe’s state of mind by saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?!”
One of the truly frightening reminders that we get from this gospel is that in each and every one of us, there are two distinct sides that sometimes do not work in conjunction with each other. The first one is our public side; this positive outward perception that we try to show others. There are times when we as Christians act differently in public (or maybe even at Church) than we are truly feeling on the inside. Our outward actions don’t always correspond with the inner workings of our soul.
For those of us who are making the spiritual attempt to “know ourselves,” the fact that Christ was able to read the hearts and minds of the Scribes presents an extremely scary proposition for us doesn’t it? We tend to focus so much of our attention on our public image because we think that this is the only part of us that can be seen. But we forget about the All-Seeing Eye of our Lord, Who intimately knows the depths and hearts of men!
As good as we think our public perception is on the outside, we should tremble in fear at what is found in the inner most depths of our hearts. To illustrate this thought, I want to turn to a somewhat confusing example of this duality that I once heard from a very well-respected priest:“There is no greater hypocrisy in our day, than the sin of “being nice” to one another.”
On the surface, this statement sounds absolutely absurd! Of course we are supposed to be nice to another, because the alternative is to be a jerk to one another. But if we dig deeper in our understanding our public image vs our inner depths, it is easy to see why simply being “nice” to someone can be a tremendous lie.
“Being nice” is what the Scribes in the Gospel were doing. In this particular instance, they said nothing out loud about what they were thinking. They gave no verbal protest because (at least in this moment) they didn’t want to cause a scene. But deep down inside, they were burning with jealousy and anger—the likes of which our Lord uncovered in an instant.
We have these moments in our own lives where we publicly act a certain way that doesn’t correspond with what is going on inside. How many of us can point to a time when we were having a particularly “trying” day at work and one of our co-workers who has a history of being “long winded,” comes into our cubicle and starts to ramble on about some difficulty they are having in life. How do we respond to moments like this? We politely smile and nod, attempting to “be nice”, but not truly caring or internalizing anything that they had to say.
Or perhaps another example can be seen in how we interact with the homeless in the streets. We often try to “be nice” and give our pocket change to a homeless person on the street, but almost immediately, one of two things begins to happen. We either wonder if they are going to go to a local bar to buy a drink with that money, or worse, we continue onto where we are going, completely forgetting about the “Lazarus that was brought at our doorstep.”
Of course, I am not suggesting that we stop being polite to one another. Nor would the Church ever suggest that we stop being “nice”. But what the Church does tell us, is that we need to pay more attention to that inward part of our soul. With all of the evil going on in the world, simply put, we can no longer afford to “just be nice” to one another on the surface. We have to start learning to love with our entire being.
This is what Christ did for us! The Love that He showed, and continues to show the world, is not just something that is on the surface. He didn’t heal people in order to gain popularity or to boost his public image. He healed the sick because of His tremendous love for Mankind.
Each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. We all have the Love of our Creator implanted in our DNA. This is why we get a wonderful feeling, perhaps even goosebumps, when we do something for one another out of love. It is part of our calling as Christians to learn to cultivate that Love to the best of our ability; not just on the surface, but allowing it to permeate our entire being.
As we enter into the Dormition Fast this week, let us be mindful of both the inward and outward parts of our being. Through prayer, the sacraments, and through practice, may we strive to be more like the friends of the Paralytic, who just like the scribes on that day, were silent. But it was the omnipotent God who saw the faith and love that is necessary in them to truly experience the Grace that all mankind was meant to have in the beginning.