Jesus entered a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…
“Jesus… own city,” referred to in the text, was Capernaum. He moved there early in his ministry and made it his hub of operation after the people of Nazareth tried to kill him. The first piece of information is an account of a sick man whose friends cared enough for him to bring him to Jesus. The home referred to in the text was probably Peter’s and Andrew’s home where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Friendship is a wonderful thing.
Every week we are reminded that, “love of neighbor” is so high a matter for Jesus that we have it repeated over and over again in the Church. Along with loving God with our whole being, love of neighbor is the fulfillment of all the Law. Yes, God is our happiness and only God himself is sufficient for the human heart. But it is not the case that nothing short of God awakens our love, our reverence, and our trust. Friends do that. Friends may open our hearts and it is sweet indeed when friendship meets at the foot of the Cross. But our hearts require, indeed our hearts long for, a permanence no man can promise. And friends know this to be true. True friends will not promise more to one another, will not seek more from one another than Jesus has made us to be. We are created for embodied fellowship with one another and we are better for that fellowship. A true friend in Christ is a soothing comfort all because that friendship finds its end in Christ and his Kingdom.
Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…
We see this sort of event repeated over and over again throughout the Gospels as well as our own lives and the lives of our friends. It is a blessing and a comfort to have friends; it is especially a blessing to have friends who love us and who love Jesus. It is a mark of the importance of this sort of event, of this great consolation, in the life of the Church, that they are multiplied in our liturgical calendar throughout the Christian year. This poor man had intercessors who brought him to Jesus and that made all the difference in the world for him.
and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…
Another upshot is the comfort, the blessing, and the necessity of intercessory prayer in God’s order for our life in the Body of Christ. But this is what I want you to see: Intercessory prayer is a manifestation of a way of life. We are all called to intercede for one another and for the life of the whole world. When someone asks you to pray for them they are asking you to take up the role of these friends who brought the sick man to Jesus. Jesus honors intercessory prayer, yes — but there is more to it — the very order of the Body of Christ may be described as intercessory prayer –- this is how we most authentically live together as Christians. It is not merely that intercessory prayer works (which it does), but it is not a tool we pull out of our spiritual tool box when it is needed. It is not like a power drill. It is not instrumental, pragmatic, or utilitarian. God has ordained intercessory prayer to be the way we are, the way we live together. God has ordained intercessory prayer to be for the good life of the world, as well as, for the good of heaven. It is not that God needs our prayers, it is that God has ordered our life such that prayer is our finality.
Baptism is the archetype, the spot on example of intercessory prayer: every little baby who is baptized into Christ has this beginning through the intercession of others who love him or her. She can only smile or cry or sleep as her parents and godparents not only intercede for her, but also speak what she cannot speak for herself. At the moment of baptism the priest does not ask the parents and godparents if they wish to have the baby baptized. The questions of faith are posed, as it were, to the baby and the godparents answer in his name:
Wilt thou be baptized in the Faith
That is my desire.
Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the day’s of thy life?
I will by God’s help.
Intercession, friendship, fellowship, common prayer, and common life. Listen to me: the same thing that effects our participation in the Life of Christ, effects our participation in one another’s life. By virtue of our baptism into Christ we are baptized into one body and we are from then on “members of Christ and members one of another.” “Members one of another.” We are not merely individual persons. Love of neighbor is the natural state of being in the Body of Christ. Friendship, fellowship, community in the Body of Christ is sacramental — it is the really real of life. Intercession, friendship, fellowship, common prayer, and common life.
And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee…