Homily Delivered at Dignity NoVA and DC (February 21 and 22, 2009)
Reading 1 Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
Reading II 2 Cor 1:18-22
Gospel Mk 2:1-12
When I read this passage from Mark that we have for today’s Gospel, I found this story particularly moving. It comes early in Mark’s Gospel, at the beginning of the second chapter; and it relates the 4th in a series of 4 healings that Jesus performs and about which Mark writes.
- The first was the man with an “unclean spirit” whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath;
- Next, Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, who lay ill with a fever and whom Jesus healed simply by helping her up and without uttering a word;
- And third was a leper who knelt before Jesus and begged to be healed by saying, “if You wish, you can make me clean”; and of course, Jesus does wish this, and so heals him of his leprosy.
And so as I read this fourth and final healing about the paralitic, three things came to mind, and these are the three things I would offer to us very briefly as we reflect for a few moments on the Scriptures on this Sunday before the beginning of Lent. Those three things are Friendship, Faith, and Forgiveness.
Friendship plays such a key role in how this paralyzed man comes to Jesus. Because of his physical condition, he clearly is not able to walk and so is not only dependent on others to get around – but is probably dependent on others for so many other things in life as well. Although there is no mention of his family, he obviously has friends – people in his life who care for and love him. And it is some of these friends who literally carry the man to Jesus’ home. In this same story in Matthew and Luke, they use the term “bed,” … but Mark says he is carried “on a mat” – suggesting more clearly that this man is poor and of low social status. And so these friends, determined as they are, not only bring him to Jesus, but go to what seem to be great lengths by opening up the roof and lowering their friend down so that they can lay him at Jesus’ feet.
And what it is that drives these persistent friends to do what they do? Faith – faith told them that their paralyzed friend simply needed to be close to Jesus and something wonderful would happen. One commentator I read noted that the Greek word that is here translated as “faith” also connotes “loyalty.” These loyal, faithful friends are persistent in what they know they must do. Notice that none of them – neither the friends nor the paralyzed man – say anything. Their faith is expressed not in words, but in action It’s not expressed in anything they say, but is clearly shown in what they do! Their persistence and loving action in reaching their goal speaks volumes. And seeing their faith in what they do …. Jesus responds!
And how does Jesus respond? At first, in a somewhat surprising way. Jesus responds by speaking of Forgiveness. As I mentioned, this is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten Season – those forty days before the celebration of the Sacred Triduum, during which time our attention is annually drawn to a deeper self-reflection, contemplation of our faults and shortcomings, but more importantly to the forgiveness that God never fails to extend to us, no matter how many times we sin or “miss the mark.” In the healing of the paralytic, the physical healing that Jesus gives to this man is actually secondary, offered only in response to what Jesus knows is in the hearts of the religious leaders present. Initially, what Jesus offers is even more important than bodily healing … and that’s the spiritual healing that comes when he says, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
As Christians and disciples of Jesus, we certainly are called to come before God and seek that forgiveness that brings wholeness to the totality of who we are. But our faith asks more than that. Our faith invites us not only to be the recipients of forgiveness, but also agents of forgiveness. After all, isn’t that what Reconciliation is all about? Our faults and failings certainly separate us from God in a spiritual sense, but our real-life, daily conflicts separate us from one another in a very tangible, deeply felt way. It is these un-reconciled conflicts which may not cause physical paralysis, but which have the power – if we let them – of paralyzing our hearts and souls and which get in the way of our forming deep bonds of friendship and community and are stumbling blocks in our building a world of justice and peace.
Our contemporary understanding of “conflict resolution” tells us that it is more often the injured party – the one who has been hurt – who has the power to take the first step in the process of reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing. And so as we prepare to enter the Season of Lent, perhaps this is a good time for us to reflect on how well we have been open not only to receiving forgiveness in our own lives when we have harmed others, but also extending it outward beyond ourselves when we have been harmed.
- Is there a forgiveness or hand of reconciliation that we as individuals have failed to extend to someone who has hurt us?
- Even, dare I say, is there a forgiveness or hand or reconciliation that we as a Dignity community have failed to extend to the institutional Church that continues to be hurtful toward us?
Isaiah reminds us how God fervently desires NOT to remember our sins, not to be burdened by the sins of long ago. God – Who makes all things new – wants us to live in the present and remember not the transgressions of the past. This is the life giving and healing forgiveness that God offers us. As faithful followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we be willing do the same?