Sunday of week 7 of Ordinary Time (B)

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

LAST SUNDAY, after the healing of the leper, we saw Jesus fleeing to a remote place to get away from the excited crowds. They were looking for him but, it is implied, for the wrong reasons.

Today we see him returning to the town of Capernaum, which seems to have been his major base in Galilee. He is hardly in the town before the word gets round that he is back. Immediately the crowds gather in and around the house where he is staying. Is this unnamed house the home of Peter and Andrew? Or is it also a symbol of the Church, the place where Christ and his followers are to be found? In any case, it is so crowded that there is no room to get in or out. The people are all eager to hear what he is saying, for “no man spoke like this man” and he spoke, not like the Scribes, but “as one having authority”. (If our churches these days are not very crowded, is it because people do not find in them the life-giving Saviour they seek and need?)

A measure of faith

At that point, four men carrying a paralytic friend are anxious to get to Jesus. Seeing no way in, they go up by the outside staircase of the house on to the flat roof, remove a few tiles and let the man down right at the feet of Jesus. Jesus is touched by their determination which is a measure of their faith, trust and confidence in him. As we shall see in future stories, it is one of the conditions for healing.

Jesus says, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” This is a surprising statement. The man came 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 means making whole again.

At the same time, the scribes present are shocked and say to themselves, “The man is blaspheming. Only God can forgive sins.” It was believed that not even the Messiah would have the power to forgive sin so the implications of Jesus’ statement are startling and shocking and their conclusion that only God can forgive sin is right on the button. But their eyes are closed to the logic of their own remark. They refuse to draw the obvious conclusion; they don’t see because they do not want to see.

Which is easier?

Jesus then challenges them. “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up, pick up your bed and walk’?” In a sense, either would be difficult for an ordinary person to pronounce with confidence. On the other hand, it is easy enough to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’. Who would know whether it had or had not happened? Then Jesus, justifying what he has just said, first addresses his critics (“to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”) and then turns to the sick man, “Rise, pick up your mat and go home.” At once the man picked up his sleeping mat and walked out in front of everyone. The crowd is amazed. “We have never seen anything like this!”

For a better understanding of what is going on here, it is important for us to realise 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, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind” (John 9:2).

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.

In these times, we are beginning to realise again that there can be a close link between our sicknesses and our behaviour. We know that there is a mutual influence between our thinking and our attitudes, feelings and behaviour. Many sicknesses, perhaps most, are known to be psychosomatic, the result of stress or an imbalance in our relationships with others, our work, our environment. An aspirin may relieve a headache but it does not really remove what caused it in the first place.

Effects of sin

Sinful behaviour, too, is a source of dis-ease in our lives. Sin in all its forms harms relationships: our relationships with the Truth and Love of God, with those around us, with ourselves. It creates an imbalance in ourselves affecting mind, feelings and body. A deeply sinful person cannot be a healthy person. To be full of greed, hatred, anger, resentment, jealousy, abusive desires breaks the relationships I need to have with God, with others and with myself.

The words ‘healing’, ‘health’, ‘wholeness’ and ‘holiness’ all have a common root. The whole person, one in whom all parts are in perfect harmony with God, other people, one’s environment and oneself, is the truly holy person.

However, given our present knowledge, not all sickness is to be traced to sinful behaviour. Certain congenital defects, for instance, cannot be traced to the behaviour of the person, still less as a punishment. The man in the Gospel is a good example. On the other hand, we do know that the behaviour of the mother, for instance, through the use of nicotine, alcohol or other drugs, can have serious negative effects on the development of the child within her. A person could be suffering for life from the sinful behaviour of a parent. It is not, of course, their sin, still less to be seen as a punishment for them. But our ancestors were often closer to the truth than we are prepared to recognise.

God sees only the present
Today’s First Reading makes a very important point which questions the belief that past behaviour is responsible for how I am now. “Thus says the Lord: No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before.” It was wrong to see the sickness of the man as a punishment for some past sin. The only sins that matter are those of which I am at present guilty, sins that I have not repented of. God never looks at my past but only at my present situation, my present relationship with him.

If I am actively now a loving person – loving God, loving those around me and loving my self in a proper way, then there is no sin in me, no matter what I may have done in the past. God has no memory of my past. He does not keep detailed accounts of my behaviour. He only loves me and wants me to accept his love and let it flow in and through me.

“You have burdened me with your sins, troubled me with your iniquities. I it is, I it is, who must blot out everything and not remember your sins,” we read in Isaiah today. Our sins are indeed many but God is just waiting to set them aside and wipe them out. The decision is all ours. Like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, God is just waiting to throw his arms around us.

And so, as Paul urges the Christians at Corinth in today’s Second Reading, we are to keep saying an unconditional ‘Yes’ to God just as Jesus always said ‘Yes’ to his Father. For, in Jesus, all God’s promises to us are ‘Yes’. God is not the source of vindictive punishment for our wrongdoing. The suffering that sinful behaviour causes flows from the sin itself, from the distorted relationships it develops with God, with other people and with our own selves. Instead, we are to say a resounding ‘Amen’ to God’s love poured out on us.

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.

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