Not Just Souls, but Bodies

By Elizabeth Baumann

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 9:1-8

1 And after getting into a boat he crossed the water and came to his own town.

2 And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” 7 And he stood up and went to his home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.


Lately, in a number of places, I’ve encountered Christians talking about the necessity of treating whole people in a medical culture that only sees bodies with symptoms. Jesus demonstrates Christian whole-person medicine perfectly in our lesson today.  He sees not just a paralyzed body, but the weight of sin that has paralyzed a soul.

Nor does he see only this man, but he sees a community which has brought this man to him.  Nowhere else I can think of does Jesus heal or forgive because of others’ faith. But he doesn’t stop even there. He sees into the incredulous hearts of the scribes who are watching. Only then does he heal the physical paralysis as a sign of his authority to forgive the spiritual malady. He makes himself known to the paralytic in the forgiveness of his sins; he makes himself known to the world in the healing of his body. In a sense, he incarnates: he makes the invisible spiritual reality visible with a body.

We like to speak of outward and visible signs of inward, invisible grace. There are the sacraments, of course — but there are also our bodies, the physical entities which make our souls visible, not to mention the medium through which we receive the sacraments. It’s our bodies which are baptized, which ingest the Blessed Sacrament, which we anoint with the oils of chrism and unction. What Jesus shows us here is that it also works the other way: we don’t just receive grace through these physical means, our bodies testify to that grace. Occasionally, that’s through a miraculous healing, but it’s also through a smile, the birth of a child, a voice in song. We tend to forget, so today here’s a reminder: we offer him our whole selves, not just souls, but bodies.

Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Gambia (Church of the Province of West Africa)
Christ Church Georgetown, Washington, D.C.


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