‘Then said he to the man sick of the palsy: Arise, take up thy bed and go to thy house. And he arose and went into his house…” (Mt 9:6-8). Note the words, ‘Arise’, ‘take’ and ‘go’. The palsied man rises when the sinner deserts the vices in which he has lain…
‘Take your bed’… “To take up one’s bed is to lift the flesh up from earthly desires to the will of the spirit. Then, what was a sign of weakness becomes a proof of health.” Take up your bed, then, separating your flesh from earthly things by continence, in hope of heavenly things. There is something similar in the second book of Kings, where it says that:
‘David defeated the Philistines, and brought them down. And he took the bridle of tribute out of the hands of the Philistines. And he defeated Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to earth. And he measured with two lines, one to put to death, and one to save alive; and Moab was made to serve David under tribute (2 Kg (Sm) 8:1-2).
Literally, understand the text like this: ‘David defeated the Philistines, and he took the bridle of tribute out of their hands’, the power that they had in Israel. ‘And he defeated Moab, and measured them with a line’, the one to whom he willed to give the inheritance, casting them down to earth, humbling them greatly. ‘He measured with two lines’, etc., deciding at his own pleasure whom to kill, and whom to keep alive.
Morally, the Philistines mean ‘those who fall down from drink’. They stand for the bodily senses, drunk with the drink of worldly vanity, falling into the pit of sin. They are called a ‘double ruin’, because they ruin themselves and the soul. Of this ruin the Lord says:
‘Every one that heareth these my words and doth them not shall be like a foolish man that built his house (his way of life) upon the sand (love of temporal things). And the rain (of the devil’s temptation) fell, and the floods (of carnal desire) came, and the wind (of worldly success or failure) blew; and they beat upon that house. And it fell’ (because its foundation was sand, dry sand representing temporal things which lack the moisture of grace); ‘and great was the fall thereof’ (Mt 7:26-27).
David defeats the Philistines, when the penitent strikes down his bodily senses by mortifying the flesh, and humbles them by remembering his baseness. Then he takes away the bridle of tribute, the desire of greed and lust which formerly bridled the bodily senses, so that they could not eat the straw of the Lord’s Incarnation, placed in the manger; but could only drink the water of earthly pleasure. A bridled horse cannot eat, but it can drink. So Jeremiah deplores this tribute in Lamentations, saying,
‘The prince of provinces is made tributary’ (Lam 1:1). The soul was once prince of provinces, the five senses; now it is tributary to carnal desires. But David takes out of their hand (their power) the bridle of tribute, when he takes up his bed, ‘crucifying the flesh with its vices and concupiscences’ (Gal 5:24).
‘And he defeated Moab’, etc. Moab is ‘from the father’, meaning the movement of the flesh which we have contracted from our fathers. As often as this Moab arises, we must strike it down, crush it, and cast it down to earth. We measure it by our judgement, with the line of harsh penance. We humble it and apply punishment in proportion to guilt. We should measure with two lines, two sorts of compunction. One refers to sin: this is to death, to mortifying the movement of the flesh; the other refers to desire for glory, life-giving to our spirit. So the Gospel continues: ‘Go to your house’. To go to our house is to return to paradise, man’s first home; or to inward care, lest we sin again. He rose, and went to his house… “It is a great virtue, when without delay the command is accompanied by salvation. How rightly did those present leave their blasphemies in amazement, and turn to praise of so great a majesty.”
So there follows: ‘And the multitude, seeing it, feared, and glorified God that gave such power to men’ (Mt 9:8). Note that they feared and they glorified. So we say in the Introit of today’s Mass: ‘All that thou hast done to us, Lord, thou hast done in true judgement: for we have sinned against thee, and have not obeyed thy commandments’ (Dan 3:28-30).
This makes it clear that the palsied man was struck with illness because of his sins; and he could not be cured until they were forgiven. We should believe all that the Lord has done, because he does them with just judgement; and we should acknowledge our sins and glorify him with the crowds, saying, ‘But give glory to thy name, and do with us according to thy mercy’ (Dan 3:42-43).
The third part of the Epistle is concordant to this third clause: ‘He that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labour, working wiith his hands the thing that is good’, that is: ‘take up your bed’, because he who intends a good work, takes up the bed of his flesh; ‘that he may have something to give him that suffereth need’ (Eph 4:28). That is: ‘and go to your house.’ He goes to his house, when he bestows works of mercy on his soul, which suffers need.
Beloved brothers, let us then ask our Lord Jesus Christ to make us rise from sin, take up the bed of our flesh, and return to the house of heavenly blessedness. May he grant this, who is blessed, sweet and lovable, for ever and ever. Let every soul rising from the bed of the flesh say: Amen. Alleluia.