As we live toward the Sabbath liturgy, we are invited to consider a longer “Penance Rite” theme. When we pray, “Lord have mercy” at the beginning of the Eucharistic liturgy, we are not praying as if God’s mercy were in doubt on our part nor on the part of God. It is a kind of petition and proclamational boast as well. God is not ambiguous toward us.
We pray with our letting go of the past deeds and watchfully consider the new ways of God as the One Who is faithful in all ways. We pray with the truth of our needs for forgiveness as well as the temptations to doubt our personal forgiveness.
We pray as well with our desires to walk into God’s future and our own expecting peace in our hearts and praise for that peace on our lips and in our actions.
There are several sections to today’s First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah. The words of the prophet are directed to the people of Israel who are in captivity in Babylon. These are great words of hope for the hearers. Their religious history is not centered on the creation of the world, but the creation of Israel as a blest and Holy people, chosen as such through the “first exodus.” The “second exodus” is about to happen.
The first verses of our reading are a reminder not to count the “first exodus” as the central mystery of their history. No need to recall the past to understand and celebrate their being God’s Holy People. The “something new” is even more a dramatic revelation of God’s faithful love. As they sit in captivity they are prodded to imagine how God is going to give them a way through the desert, with rivers to nourish and guide them. All this saving of Israel is to continue their growth as God’s people formed so that they might praise their living and saving God.
There is a sudden change of tone and direction. God calls them to remember, not God’s wonderful deeds, but remember that they had “burdened” God with their sins and their failure to practice strictly the religious obligations of the law. They had grown tired of the practices of worship and failed in the calling upon God for help. God was burdened with their sins and tired of their crimes.
With this as a background once more, God proclaims again that God alone wipes away their “offenses” and “your sins I remember not.” In brief, God is saying, remember what I did no more long ago, imagine what I am going to do. Then remember what you, Israel did in your ungrateful past so that you Israel will know that God has not forgotten you, but your sins.
At times, Jesus was quite the spectator sport. Crowds came to see, view, marvel at what He might do next. Such a crowd was gathered around His house to see and hear Him in today’s Gospel. Within this context, four men bring a fifth person to be healed. We might ask why Jesus did not come out, do the main event and get on with His preaching. Why does Mark do the “roof thing”, it seems so unnecessary.
The main event might be the faith of the men bringing the paralytic to the house and their intensity of faith moved them to hit the roof. The main event might not be the healing, but the forgiveness of the man’s sin. The sin is symbolized by its resultant paralysis. The main event might be the ironical statement by the ever-present scribes,” Who but God alone can forgive sins”. Their words affirm what Jesus is doing and Who He is.
The main event is that Jesus has come, not to recall the past, but be the present presence of the loving and forgiving God in this old world. C. S. Lewis, in The Magician’s Nephew, (one of the Chronicles of Narnia), has one of the characters say, “For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing and also depends on what sort of person you are.” Jesus was standing in the middle, saw the man’s being lowered through the roof and heard the murmurings of the scribes. What sort of person is Jesus?
The scribes see Jesus heal a man, and hear His words of forgiveness. They are standing in a protective posture against anything new over which they can not legislate. They hear threatening words to their authority. What sort of characters do they possess? The crowds are standing around the healing event and they see something new and amazing. They had never seen anything like this before. They hear His words of healing, rising and sending. Among them must be the four men who lowered their friend down into the house. They may have seen and heard Jesus before so perhaps they are less amazed. Their faith brought them and their friend to be part of the main event.
So where we stand in this picture does determine what we see and hear as well as what sort of character we are. We are probably parts of the crowd, the scribes the four carriers and the one presented to Jesus. We may resist Jesus’ being able to forgive sins, even our own sins. Perhaps we are a bit of the crowd who watch others being healed. We are the man as well who is bidden to rise and get on with it, with living a new way. Where we stand in a scene such as this and many others from the Gospels will determine what and how we see and hear Jesus. From where Jesus stands, the main event is His hearing and seeing faith and His sending forth this man. Missioning is what healing is all about for Jesus. They laid the man down in faith and Jesus raised Him up and sent him out.
“I will tell all your marvelous works. I will rejoice and be glad in you, and sing to your name, Most High.” Ps. 9, 2-3
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