Seventh Sunday of the year February 19, 2012

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12

Our human existence is a gift of God to us and its origin and end belongs to God.  Christian faith is the recognition of God’s definitive affirmation of humanity in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is an explicit affirmation within human life that illuminates God’s taking control of our life. Through faith in Christ, human persons are oriented toward God, the source of their true affirmation and away from the ever-present potential to negate their own existence.  Our faith is a simple human response to the revealed divine word. God reveals himself to us continuously through persons, word and situations.  He comes to us in various ways and we ought to recognize him. In the gospel of today we hear Jesus appreciating the faith of people as they bring a paralyzed person to him to be healed. His healing is total, for he does inner healing by forgiving the sins of the person and then does physical healing by restoring him back to good health.  In the first reading we have Prophet Isaiah giving good news to the wearied people.  God is going to liberate them from the Babylonian captivity and lead them back to the Promised Land.  In the second reading Paul insists that he and his companions have been positive in their dealings with the people of Corinth. Paul tells them that he had been faithful in every way to his office as preacher of the Gospel of Christ.  This office was given to him by God the Father. Just a Christ was God’s yes to the divine promises, so God in Christ enabled the apostles to be faithful in their mission to Corinth.

In the first reading from Prophet Isaiah begins with surprising news that what God is about to do for the people will overshadow even the deliverance from Egypt. In those days of the past God opened up a dry pathway through the sea to lead them to the Promised Land. Now a new Exodus was about to begin. But this time the elements will be reversed. This time a well-watered pathway will lead straight through the parched desert between Babylon and their homeland.  Further, God promised the possibility of the forgiveness of sins of the entire nation. But he commanded them to set aside the ways of the past in order to open the door to a better future. The initiative for this wonderful act of deliverance comes entirely from God. The people could never claim to deserve such deliverance. God chose them to be an ideal people to show to the rest of the world what it meant to give total service to God. They had a special bond with God as they were his chosen children. But they took this relationship with God for granted and went their own way. Instead of serving him they pursued their own interest.  Even though God was angry of their wrong doings, had by now forgotten and forgiven all their sins. With all their illusions shattered, the people could now be prepared to accept the noble task God always had in mind for them.

In the Second Reading from the second Letter to the Corinthians Paul teaches us, that our response to God’s promises should be yes, as the response of Jesus was always yes to his Heavenly Father. God was not inconsistent with us by saying yes and then No.  In our relationship with God Paul says that we should never be inconsistent.  God the Father made many promises to his people. Through Jesus who is their fulfillment, every one of God’s promises were accomplished, we being living witnesses of each promise found in the Old Testament. As such, our response to prayers is always Amen for the glory of God, “Amen” meaning Yes. It is God who has established us as members of the Body of Christ and who has anointed us with holy oil. It is by His grace that those who believe in Christ receive strength and the necessary faith to walk the path of salvation. God set His seal on us by placing His Spirit in our hearts as a first installment. Three things stand out here. God anointed us. He marked us with a seal. He gave us His Spirit as a first installment. A seal means that it is official and binding. God placed His seal on us through the Sacrament of Baptism. Though the Corinthians thought they had reason to mistrust Paul, because he changed his plans to visit them, he insists that he and his companions have been faithful. God the Father together with Christ and the Spirit is at work in the apostles and enables them to say yes to the people of Corinth.

The Gospel of today tells us that Jesus had just returned home and performed yet another healing miracle. No sooner had he arrived, the word got out and the crowd gathered at his home. So great was the number of people that some had to stand in front of the door as Jesus spoke and reflected on the Word. The people were all eager to hear what he was saying, for no man spoke like this man and he spoke not like the Scribes, but as one having authority.  Mark tells us of the healing miracle that took place in Capernaum into which is inserted as a controversy story between Jesus and the Scribes over the forgiveness of sins.   The story began at Capernaum located on the north coast of the Sea of Galilee.   Already people were aware of his popularity and they came in large numbers to listen to Jesus. They brought to him a person paralyzed and in need of healing.  He was helpless and they had to carry him on a stretcher. The people already trusted in the healing power of Jesus. There were four stretcher-bearers and without them, the paralytic would not have been able to go to Jesus: he needed their help to reach him. But there was something more. When the men could not bring the paralyzed man to Jesus because of the crowd, they climbed the roof and made a hole in it above the place where Jesus was so as to lower the man before him. In Palestine every house had a flat roof to which people went to rest, for taking the sun, and to get away from it all in the cool of the evening. To that roof they had a stairway from the outside.  The people could easily take the man to the roof remove some straw and lower him before Jesus. Mark does not say that Jesus appreciated the faith of the paralytic, but rather he informs them that he was touched by the faith of all: that of the paralytic and the stretcher-bearers combined.  He appreciated their determination which is a measure of their faith, trust and confidence in him.

Being impressed by their faith, Jesus made a surprising statement, saying before the crowd that the sins of the paralytic are forgiven.  The man had come for healing of his physical disability, not forgiveness. But in the way Jesus sees things there can be no healing of the body without the inner healing of the soul. Healing involves making a person complete again.  It was a sign of communion. There was not only the sympathy and human compassion that the bearers expressed for the paralytic by bringing him to Jesus to be healed.  But there was also, above all, communion in a single faith in the Saviour of the world, in the long-awaited Messiah so often proclaimed by the Prophets. This, therefore, was a sign of the communion of saints: borne by four men – four being the symbol of holiness – the paralytic would receive from Jesus, that is, from God himself, the forgiveness of his sins. Jesus tells him before all those present that his sins are forgiven and does not tell him that he is healing him now. Jesus shows that physical and spiritual healing go hand in hand.  This indeed raised the controversy about the forgiveness of sins and people question him about his divinity. The Scribes immediately conclude this as blasphemy, for the power of forging sins was only with God and they could not see the divine sonship of Jesus. However, the paralytic stood up as Jesus asked him to do, take his mat and walked out before all and those present were amazed at the miracle.

The healing the paralytic and the forgiveness of sins by Jesus led to the controversy that immediately followed. For a better understanding of what is going on here, it is important for us to realize here the close links the Jews of the time made between sin and sickness. Many kinds of sickness were seen as punishment for personal sin or the sins of parents. We remember the story of the healing of a man born blind in John’s gospel. When Jesus and his companions first saw the man, the disciples asked him whose sins had made the person blind, whether his sins or those of his parents. This man’s paralysis is also seen by the people around as a punishment for some sin in his own life or that of his parents. If Jesus could clearly remove the illness, then the cause of the illness was also being taken away. In so doing, Jesus makes it clear that in forgiving the man’s sin he was not blaspheming. He was what he claimed to be. If the man now was no longer sick or disabled, it meant that the sin, too, was gone. What impressed the audience was not the forgiveness of sins, because they could not sense that from the depth of their hearts.  They were impressed that this little known man in their small town could heal a person who was paralyzed for a long time and he was now able to walk.  They were truly impressed but by the wrong things.

The Scribes who were the scholars of Law overheard the words of forgiveness from the mouth of Jesus and complained that he had uttered words of blasphemy. The reason for their charge was that the Law declares only God can forgive sins and no one else. The Scribes could not easily accept the divine power of Jesus and hence they considered his utterances as blasphemy. Jesus at the same time was able to read the hearts of people and so he knew what the Scribes were thinking and he confronted them.  Confronting them directly Jesus asks them which is easier to say that one’s sins are forgiven or to tell the paralytic to get up and walk.  The latter could be identified immediately, while the former could not be verified at all.  Referring himself as the Son of Man Jesus showed himself as not only a human person but the ultimate saviour sent by God.   To prove his authority Jesus commanded the paralytic to get up and pick up his mat and go home.  To the amazement of the entire group present, the paralytic did exactly as Jesus commanded him to do.  He got up, took his mat and went away. They were all able to witness the power and authority of Jesus who not only did the healing but also brought about the forgiveness of God in the heart of the person.  In this way he showed that every person is called upon to be in perfect harmony with God, with people, with one’s environment and with oneself and such person is the truly holy person.

In this miracle of healing we have the fundamental dogma of our Christian faith, namely, Christ is the Son of God, explained to us by none other than Jesus himself.  He also told them that he had the power to forgive sins which was considered a blasphemy by the Scribes.  They said only God can forgive sins and only an offended person can grant forgiveness that is God. Jesus in his answer proved how wrong they were. First he showed them that he knew fully the thoughts they had in their minds which they had not expressed openly. Secondly he asked them which was easier to speak and communicate, namely, on forgiving sins or on physical healing to make a paralytic walk, since both required divine power.  Thus he showed them that he has the divine power and full authority from God which he showed in all his miracles.  Mark tells us that all were amazed and whether the Scribes were included among them was doubtful.  They were hard hearted persons filled with their selfishness and pride. Jesus in fact would have worked the miracle of mercy even if the Scribes had not interfered. In his revelation of the mystery he wanted to show them that he is divine and hence shows his divine power in the total healing of the person.

Placing together today’s readings they tell us that we as Christians have received our forgiveness of sins by our faith in Christ. We are called to believe in the fulfillment of the promises of the Heavenly Father that we reconcile ourselves to him in the Spirit. This enables us to partake in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to receive our inheritance as children of God, as chosen by Jesus from eternity. In the light of today’s Gospel, then, we can look at our own lives and see if there is a real harmony between our spirit, mind, body and surrounding environment. Being holy is not just saying prayers or being pious. It is about a wholeness and integrity that touches every aspect of our life and all our relationships. May all of us respond like the paralyzed man: by allowing our sufferings and sins to bring us to Jesus.   Happily, of course, the paralytic was able to come to Jesus, who blessed him with two precious gifts: forgiveness and healing. The first was actually much more important than the second as Jesus makes it clear in his response to the scribes.  But the physical healing he did was very special too. Based on the experience of this paralytic, we first of all have to say that our sufferings have the power to bring us closer to the Lord. The Gospel teaches us that Jesus is ever ready to heal us only if we choose to come to him and he does the total healing of the person, physical and spiritual. It also makes us to have greater appreciation of our own value in the sight of God.

There is the story of an acrobat who performed an unusual, wonderful feat.  There was a great canyon, 300 feet wide Canyon. It was nearly a thousand feet deep and all sharp stones protruding. He had tied a strong wire across it and in the presence of a huge crowd assembled there he walked across and returned.  Then he did something more. He was blind-folded and he went across the gorge and returned. Everyone was astounded at the feat. Then he did something more astounding. He took a wheel barrow filled with sand and pushed it across and back.  The wire was sagging almost to a breaking point. As he landed one young man ran to him and said that he was great and no one like him.  The acrobat asked him whether he trusted him and the young man said yes, totally he trusted him. Quietly the acrobat emptied the wheel barrow of the sand and said I am going again across the gorge and you are going to sit in this wheel barrow and I will push you across. The man disappeared from the scene. His total faith had disappeared when he was called upon to take the risk.

Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome

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