Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25
Psalm 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14
So as to be more available to the Word of God, imagine a small two-room, flat-roofed dwelling. A large crowd surrounds the doorway and several are trying to wedge their way into the small inner room. There are four men carrying a fifth person up on the low roof and seem determined to make an opening in the roof. The crowd outside does not seem to notice these second-story characters.
Jesus seems quite attractive in today’s Gospel. The reports have made the rounds that he can do marvelous healings. Of course, the skeptics and Pharisees are attracted as well to see and judge.
Jesus, for his part, is not attracted or distracted by approval, popularity, or especially, opposition. He is definitely doing “a new thing” and the physical healings are meant to be signs of his desire and mission to heal the inner illnesses of soul-sickness. The work of physical remedy and the human need and desire for it are simple to admit and accept. We can say that we have a sore throat and we can go to the proper medical person and say simply the truth of our condition.
Soul-sickness and soul-healing is not as easy for us. We pray these days for a more simple acceptance of our condition of soul and spirit. Jesus meets us where we are; our problem is becoming aware of and accepting of, our injuries and maladies. We pray to be attracted by the peace and agility which come from being well of body, mind and soul. As Jesus raised the paralytic man, so he comes to raise our hearts and touch our inner hurts so that we can go home, back to our true selves.
We hear today from the Book of Consolation which is a major section from the prophet Isaiah. The “consolation” derives from the words spoken to the people of Israel who are in exile and captivity in Babylon. They are away from the land of promise which was given them after the great event of the Exodus. They had been in bondage in Egypt and God had done a great thing “long ago.”
What we hear today is God telling the people, through Isaiah that as great a gesture of love and fidelity as the Exodus was and is in their cultic and personal memories, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” Then God seems to catch himself and reminds the people just why they were saved the first time and why they are in the present situation of captivity and away from their land.
Then the prophet stirs up their hope again by announcing that God has definitely and definitively forgiven and forgotten. The new thing is similar to the old Exodus, but what is added is their lack of faithful response to the first saving event. God is faithful even more so after their failures in responding. God is going to lead them back, giving them a way home and the land will be theirs; they will be going home.
The Gospel pictures Jesus at home again. The events of Jesus’ early public life bring a large crowd to his door. Four men climb up on the roof of the house to lower a paralytic into the presence of Jesus. There seems always to be room for one more sinner. Deformity, sickness, and such physical conditions were equated with sin, as we saw in last-weeks Gospel.
Jesus tells the “child” that his sins are forgiven. The Pharisees, who have managed to wedge their way into the proceedings, begin wondering to themselves about such a bold and blasphemous statement. “Who but God alone can forgive sin?” In their own words they are ironically affirming Mark’s opening verse of his Gospel; Jesus Christ is the son of god.
Jesus in response to their thoughts, heals the person, saying with authority that the person should rise, pick up his mat, and go back to his own home where he belongs. The paralytic did all three in the sight of the crowd who were left wondering about this new thing; sin is forgiven through faith.
Three weeks ago today some in this country celebrated “Groundhog Day.” It is a cold time of the year in this part of the world and we would like spring’s warmth to return quickly. Tradition says that if this furry little creature comes out of his winter’s hole and does not see his shadow, he will remain out and spring will be arriving soon. If he does see his shadow, he, frightened by what he sees, dives back into the security of the dark. If so, then we will have a longer winter.
The paralytic rose from his past, picked up his life and his mat and in response to Jesus, went back into the world who knew him in an old way as sick from sin.
Jesus forgives sin, but it is helpful to remember that the paralytic man did not have to rise, pick up and go home. Forgiveness is offered not forced upon us. We can groundhogishly become frightened of the shadow of our pasts and revert into the cold and darkness of our pasts. The problem with the old groundhog is that he is actually facing the wrong direction. If he would face the rising sun his shadow would remain, but the light and warmth would be his consolation. As long as he faced the increasingly rising sun, the shadow would diminish and so too his fears.
We are invited to rise and like the exiled people of God, return
home, because God is constantly doing a surprisingly new thing, forgiving
and forgetting. Our problem is that we can so easily face the wrong
way and live remembering the shadow and not facing the Son of God who alone
can forgive sin.
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