“It’s the thought that counts.” This phrase takes on a new and surprising meaning in the light of today’s Gospel. It is hard not to feel a little sorry for the Pharisees in this scripture. When Jesus tells the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2), they are shocked, since no man can rightly make such an affirmation in their estimation, and yet the Pharisees remain polite observers, refraining from critiquing the Lord publicly. In our contemporary “live and let live” culture, this is the basic courtesy that we ask of our neighbors, and the fulfillment of this courtesy is praised as a civic virtue. But, it seems, Jesus will have none of it. He does not wait for the Pharisees to express their critique—a critique which these polite Pharisees might actually never have raised publicly. Rather—and shockingly against our own sensibilities—Jesus knows what they are thinking and accuses them, saying, “why do you harbor evil thoughts?” (Mt 9:4). Jesus goes on to challenge their ways of thinking so as to invite them to open their mind to a new, more grace-filled horizon, all without any report of the Pharisees ever opening their mouths. “When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to men” (Mt 9:8).
Saint Ignatius of Loyola well understood how much all that we have and possess comes from God: not just our material goods, but even our interiority. He also stood in awe at how much God shares with us, not only all that God has and possesses through his creation, but even God’s very self. God offers us his heart, and invites us to become temples of the Holy Spirit. God wishes to make his dwelling among us, but also in us. God deserves to feel at home in our thoughts. If Jesus critiques our thoughts, it is to help us know who we truly are within, lest we fool ourselves into thinking that we are truly virtuous on the basis of the veneer of civic virtue which we hold up for our neighbors. God is not satisfied by an extrinsic relationship whose virtue is refraining from criticism so as to preserve a convenient estrangement and polite independence. No. God offers the freedom that can only come from a transparent relationship in which we let ourselves be fully known by the one who has given Himself to be fully known by us in love.