Fr. Charles Irvin
7th Sun [B] 2012
Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12
Our Judeo-Christian history begins with the recognition that God is the Sovereign Power who created the sun, the moon, the stars and universe… a universe into which God gave life, our human life. In the Old Testament that history unfolded, a history in which we humans rebelled against God because of our own prideful self-will. That rebellion brought with it death and destruction; wars and catastrophes. We just heard the prophet Isaiah reminding us of God’s loving care: “I formed people for myself so that they might announce my praise. Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob, for you grew weary of me, O Israel. You burdened me with your sins, and wearied me with your crimes.” Isaiah reminds us that God’s patience with sinful humanity has not been overcome. His love endures forever
God cannot be thwarted nor can our sins cancel out His plan and purpose. Thus at the end of today’s first reading we hear that God’s creative activity is on-going. “It is I,’ God declares, I who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sin I remember no more,” and idea we hear repeated in today’s Gospel account.
Israel witnessed God’s sovereignty in many ways but never more so than when He acts to free His people from sin and its consequences, namely the loss Adam and Eve suffered seen in the loss of their dominion over the earth, the animals, and all that God had given them. In their sin they were stripped naked of God’s graces and were now powerless in facing chaos and death.
The history of our salvation gives witness to the truth that God is forever making all things new, restoring them to His original plans and purposes. God is always “Yes” and never “No.” His acts astonish us in that He does not abolish the past but constantly renews it. This, of course, is precisely the mission of Christ in whom people saw God at work. The really amazing thing for us is that God’s forgiveness is given without reason, beyond the boundaries of reasonableness. This is central to St. Paul’s preaching, a piece of which we find in today’s second reading which Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth. “Brothers and sisters, as God is faithful, our word to you is not “yes” and “no.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not “yes” and “no,” but “yes” has been in him. For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is to him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory. But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.”
St. Mark’s Gospel is all about the question: “Who is Jesus Christ?” The answer is found in all of the healing, the authority of Christ’s teaching, and His miracles, especially in and around Capernaum where Jesus began His public ministry. In today’s Gospel passage Jesus forgives sin as only God can forgive. The response of those who witnessed it was: “Who does he think he is?” The question moves us beyond the rhetorical. It prompts us to ask that very same question.
“Why does this man speak that way?” came to the minds of those who heard Him forgiving the paralytic’s sins. It’s a reasonable question, one that we should ask along with them. Only God can forgive sins is something everyone knows. So just who is this Christ?
So, indeed, which IS easier to say: “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise, pick up your mat and walk?” Which is easier to say and then prove that you have to power to back up those words? We, of course, know the answer, the answer Jesus gave when He instantly and on the spot cured the man of his paralysis and the man immediately walked.
Allow me now to introduce another point. Priests are sometimes challenged to explain why people come to them for the forgiveness of sin in our Church’s Sacrament of Forgiveness. There are those who, claiming that God alone can forgive sins, accuse priests of usurping the prerogatives of God. In answer to their challenges I like to bring to their attention the Gospel passage we have in front of us today. In it we find access to Jesus blocked by the crowds of people who were jammed into the door of this house and into the room in which Jesus was preaching. Many things block us also. Four men in their mercy opened up the roof and lowered the paralyzed man on his pallet to the feet of Jesus. Their intercession brought Christ’s forgiveness to the paralyzed man.
We need to stop and realize that they were men of faith. They believed that Jesus had within Him the power of God, and that He could cure the man of his paralysis. Jews at that time believed that physical maladies were the result of sin. Sin induces not only spiritual paralysis but physical as well. In today’s Gospel account we find Jesus linking the power to forgive sins with the power to heal physical maladies. Curing the sick and those possessed by the demonic dominates St. Mark’s Gospel accounts. The Gospel of Mark is loaded with those cures, something we have seen this year, the year of Mark, the year in which so many Gospel accounts are taken from St. Mark’s presentation of Jesus Christ in answer to the question: Who is this Jesus?
But there is more. We find St. Mark as well as St. Luke and St. Matthew relating accounts where Jesus passed on to His Twelve apostles His mission along with His powers, particularly His power to forgive sins. Significant among them we find the following in St. Matthew’s Gospel:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19)
Then in St. John’s Gospel where he reports the very first thing Jesus did when He rose from the dead, we find this:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23)
Let me go back now to the beginning of my homily. God cannot be thwarted, nor can our sins cancel His plan and purpose. Thus at the end of today’s first reading we hear that God’s creative activity is ongoing. “It is I,’ God declares, I who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sin I remember no more.” When our sins are forgiven we become God’s new creation and, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise, we walk in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.