Condemned By Illness to Passivity

This amazing passage from Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology is perhaps the best reading of Mark […]

Ethan Richardson / 6.9.16

This amazing passage from Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology is perhaps the best reading of Mark 2 ever written. As we prepare for the Mental Health Issue, it has much to say about Christ’s office being (quite literally here) at the end of our rope. And that pastoral care–in every facet, from simple¬†friendship to hospital chaplaincy–does not mean¬†giving power to those who are powerless over their afflictions, but instead digging the grave they are too powerless to dig for themselves.

7097The pastoral dimensions for the healing of the person with schizoid characteristics can be seen in the Gospel record of the healing of the paralyzed man, brought by four friends to Jesus (Mk 2:1). The ordinary person comes into the house where Christ is, by the usual approach, through the door. Unorthodox entrances have to be found for the afflicted. The clergy will never help schizoid outsiders until they realize this and are prepared for it. A seriously afflicted person is kept out, because the curious are more concerned to indulge their own curiosity by crowding around Jesus, than they are in letting a chronic cripple be carried into his presence. The faith of the four friends rose to the occasion. They carried him up an external stairway to the roof, located Jesus, and began to dig a hole in the roof about the same size as a grave. Then with ropes at the four corners of his stretcher they prepared to let him down. There is often a cry at this moment: ‘You have brought me thus far yourselves; I didn’t want to come on this journey; now you are letting me down. You are committing me to the tomb of all our hopes.’

If this paralyzed man could have struggled off the bed before they started, or could have struck them in anger to stop them proceeding, he would by now be clinging frantically to them. Only his paralysis would save him from remaining on the roof, clinging to his friends, terrified of being let down into the presence of Jesus in full gaze of the crowd. Fortunately, he had been condemned by his illness to a passivity that overcame his contradictory and self-destructive drives. Thus the paralytic was lowered, like a dead body into a grave. The priest, Jesus himself, is waiting for the ‘corpse,’ not at the graveside, but at the bottom of it. For Christ himself has descended into hell, and it is in hell, among the dead, that the life he gives is most purely his own resurrection life. St Paul gives us the axiom of all apostolic creativity, ‘that death worketh in us, but life in you.’

The point of the story is best sustained if we regard the paralytic as one who contributed nothing whatever of himself to the cure. The healing person of Christ was working with the faith of the four friends, not of the man himself. Those who are paralyzed personalities become free, not by being able to act, but by consent to the action of others. This consent they find difficult to give because it involves a form of dependence. If we suppose the man in the story not to have genuinely consented to his friends’ action, disbelieving their manifest sincerity and the proclaimed character of Jesus, then the words of Jesus, ‘seeing their faith,’ and declaring his forgiveness are immediately appropriate and understandable. But it is important to note that the Lord’s final words were: ‘Rise, take up your bed, and walk.’