Forgiveness restores, revitalizes
By Abbot Gregory Polan, OSB
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
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The Good News for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, February 20, 2000
Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Next Sunday's Gospel passage be-gins a series of conflict stories in Mark's Gospel. Jesus is confronted by the Jewish authorities about his teaching and his activities; both do not comply with what they believe to be the right way to speak and act according to Jewish law and practice. These five conflict stories continue in Mark's Gospel from 2:1 to 3:6. But we also find something else of interest which is a common literary practice of the evangelist's: he puts the conflict story within another kind of narrative, a miracle story. There is an important lesson in this: as the forces of evil threaten Jesus, his powerful ministry of proclaiming and delivering the kingdom of God continues. The power of divine goodness will not be overcome by human wickedness.
In this Gospel story, the words of healing by Jesus may sound a bit curious to us. "Child, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5b). What does a person's sinfulness have to do with sickness? Or how does forgiveness of sins bring healing?
In the Old Testament, there is a teaching which dominates belief about the way God acts and the way things happen to people. It is called the deuteronomic principle. As you might imagine, this belief shows up numerous times in the Book of Deuteronomy and the writings we call the "deuteronomic history," which is the Books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings (read Deuteronomy 6:10-19; 11:18-32). The deuteronomic principle states that the person who acts justly and in accord with God's commands will receive divine blessings; similarly, the person who is unjust and disregards God's precepts will receive divine punishment. Thus, people who suffered from disease and who experienced severe hardship were believed to have committed serious sins - why else would such things befall them?
You may remember that in the Book of Job when calamities came Job's way, his three so-called friends kept telling him to repent of his evil and pray for divine forgiveness. They were expressing their belief in the deuteronomic principle: why else would this have happened to so good a man? The dialogue between Job and his friends grows into conflict as all parties defend their own beliefs with mounting conviction.
The miracle story about the paralytic and the faith-filled people who opened the roof and brought him to Jesus proclaims a striking and bold message about Jesus and about his God. At the heart of Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom is the foundational belief that the God of Israel is a God of forgiveness, a God of mercy, a God of compassion. Jesus saw and was touched by their faith (Mark 2:5a), and so extended to them the healing love which was within him. Weak and fragile faith moves the heart of God to bring salvific and redemptive gifts to those in need.
Both the words and the deeds of Jesus proclaim that God wants nothing more than to bring us, creatures made in the divine image (Genesis 1:27), to fullness of life and well being. That is a humbling thought, almost too much for us to fully grasp and accept. The all-powerful and all-wise God of heaven and earth wishes to share with us the gifts of divine life: joy, hope, peace, well-being, wisdom, love, and much more. Yet we sometimes feel so far from having a share in these divine gifts. Why would the Gospel proclaim such a message to the people of that time, and to us today?
Mark wrote to a community which needed to put flesh and bones on the words of the Gospel. He wanted them to understand that the ministry of Jesus was now passed on to them. As Jesus had been the extension of God's mercy and goodness in the world, so now were they to be the healing hands of Jesus in the world. And that is the same message for us to hear today.
Jesus showed that forgiveness heals; it restores vitality to what was sick and diseased. Each of us can probably recall receiving forgiveness from someone, and how that restored joy and peace to both a bruised or broken relationship and to our daily living. Forgiveness is a powerful force in the world.
How well the old adage applies here, "To err is human; to forgive is divine." None of us really wants to live at odds with people, but sometimes finding the way to forgiveness and mutual reconciliation can be difficult. What next Sunday's Gospel tells us is that forgiveness is healing and liberating; forgiveness comes from God.
In this Year of Jubilee when we focus on the gift of divine forgiveness given to us, let us be reminded that the gift is given to us so that we might in turn generously offer it to others, and so carry on the building up of God's kingdom in our world today.
Benedictine monk Gregory Polan is the abbot of Conception Abbey.