If you have not suffered any injury to your body, you may be unaware of the plight of paralytics and what daily living means for them. On no other day than Good Friday of the year 2012, I broke my ankle as I was on a ladder trying to unveil the crucifix hanging about twenty feet above the apse of the altar when the rung of the ladder on which I was standing broke off. Miraculously, the ladder fell off leaving my whole body on a fall to the hard floor. My right foot was the first to land the 185 pounds body. Needless to say, I heard clearly the sound of cracking bones. It was clear to me that those were mine. But I was in denial as I got up to walk. I managed a few steps before crumbling into the hands of a beloved parishioner, who had warned me earlier not to try walking. (As you may have noticed, quite a few priests are boneheaded). All the hospital stuff: cast and wheelchair and crutches were not as humiliating to me as to realize that I would need someone else’s help to take a shower. The rest is story. But I count myself as one—like the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate—healed through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.
You didn’t hear the story that was the prologue to Peter’s sermon in the first reading. A paralytic with congenital disability had been healed at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. This gate was prophesied in Isaiah 26:2 as the “horaios” or fair and lovely gate, which Isaiah asks that it be opened “...for the upright nation, the nation that keeps faith to enter.” Isaiah’s prophesy was made in anticipation of the miraculous healing of the cripple that forms the foundation for the new people—the now ‘upright nation’—comprising the poor, the broken, the crippled, the abandoned, and the marginalized, who, rejoicing, will enter the Lord’s house. The former paralytic represents the new “Upright Nation” who enters God’s House while the disgruntled and crippled authorities seek to silence and arrest and threaten the apostles. Peter’s sermon today highlights the insidious nature of the plot against the Righteous One by whose power the paralytic had been healed. He made sure to jolt them for their treachery: Pilate had seen through their envy and as a skilled Roman diplomat brought out the worst murderer in town, by name Barabbas, who was on death row. He must have been shocked that the Jews asked for the release of a murderer rather than an innocent person. Doesn’t it shock, too, that the people society—then as today—elevates on the pedestal are cheats, liars, porn stars, and fraudsters; some of whom are occupying the highest seats in the land? But Peter courageously rebukes them and us for our ignorance as he announces a repentance that would lead to conversion and forgiveness of our sin.
Jesus brought this same message last Sunday when He inaugurated the new ritual of reconciliation. Today, no sooner had the disciples who met Him on the road to Emmaus started to recount their story of that encounter than He walks in with the same greeting of peace. He shows them the riven hands and feet. Why does He retain those scars? Because they are the precious price of our redemption. Our plastic age would seek to erase the scars and present a polished Jesus who promises only wealth and health. But as Fulton Sheen said, when Satan enthrones himself as lord, he’ll speak gracious words of comfort, extend his hands to lovingly carry and caress children. But how do we tell he’s not the Lord? He’ll have no scars; he’ll appear as a priest but not a victim.
The lesson is this: we may be broken—whether from falling from a ladder or getting entangled with sin—but the Lord offers us healing through the power of His Resurrection. According to him, everything happened to fulfill the scriptures, “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead...and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations.” Our own scars, borne in His name, prove us witnesses.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo