February 21-22, 2009 Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B
I had a visit a couple of weeks ago from two Jehovah Witnesses. In addition to their usual Watchtower publications, they are now handing out a small booklet titled What Does the Bible Really Teach, and offering to conduct a free bible study session for you. The book is full of errors and statements that have so much spin that they would make a Washington politician blush. One of these is the statement, made several times, that the Bible does not ever claim that Jesus is divine. Specifically that Jesus is God. One obvious refutation of that claim is today's Gospel passage from Mark. Jesus forgives the paralytic's sins. The scribes correctly, albeit silently, point out that only God can forgive sins. Jesus agrees with them and them offers proof that he has that power. The author of this Gospel passage is clearly claiming that Jesus is God.
Other than providing a talking point for you next time that the Witnesses show up at your door, the interesting thing about this Gospel passage for us is not that it claims that Jesus is God. None of us would be here if we were not already aware of that. What is interesting, I would suggest, is that it reveals to us what kind of God we have.
The primary quality of God revealed by today's readings is that God is forgiving. From the beginning of the story in Genesis, to the Exodus story, to the beautiful passage from Isaiah we heard today, to the prophets, especially Jonah and Hosea, to this passage in Mark, scripture reveals that God forgives. This is the Good News that we as Catholics are commissioned to spread. The Good News is that our sins are forgiven. When Zachariah gets his voice back after nine months when he named John the Baptizer he sings a beautiful hymn of thanks to God that in part, says to his son: You, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, giving people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. (Luke 1:76ff)
And God is a forgiver who forgives with no strings attached. It is not your sins are forgiven BUT... or your sins are forgiven IF... or your sins are forgiven WHEN. God is always just Yes.
Lord I am not worthy to receive you. Only say the word and I shall be healed. And God says the word, YES.
As Paul states so vigorously in that second reading, this is not something extra God throws in; it is God's very essence.
Joseph Gallagher in his book How To Survive Being Human observes that
Humility is the willingness to be what you are and do what you can. Accordingly, the humble man does not merely recognize what he is. In itself, such recognition is an act of the intellect. But the humble person does more than that. In the depths of his being, he consents to, affirms, ratifies and says yes to what he is.
God's forgiving is simply a consequence of who God is.
Today's readings reveal something else about God and God's forgiveness for us: the role that faith plays in this. Like every part of God's love, forgiveness is a gift that is offered, never imposed. We need to accept it willingly.
In our culture we tend to think of faith as merely an intellectual activity, agreeing with the statements in the Creed, for example. The faith that Jesus acknowledges in the paralytic and his friends, and in all those whose faith heals or saves them, is more than that. It is a way of believing that makes a difference in how we live and act. Our faith is visible to anyone who looks at how we live. (Pretty scary, eh?)
Faith in God's graciousness moved the paralytic's friends to go to all that effort to bring him to Jesus. Without that movement on our part, God's forgiveness, God's graciousness in general has little effect. In Chapter 6 of Mark's Gospel we read that when Jesus came back to his home town, he was not able to perform many works of healing because of the lack of faith on the part of the people. Not "he wouldn't", or that "he chose not to", but he "could not". God's outpouring of grace requires the impulse of faith on our part in order for it to work. God never does stuff TO us. God always invites us to participate in, to respond to, God's graciousness.
Through our baptism, we are called to be prophets of the Most High, bringing knowledge of salvation to the world by the forgiveness of their sins. We need a faith that moves us first to accept God's outpouring of forgiveness into our lives (forgive us our trespassses) and then a faith that not only proclaims that to the world, but that offers that forgiveness to those in our lives (as we forgive those who trespass against us). Let us pray that this celebration of this Eucharist give us, and strengthens in us, thiskind of faith, a faith that moves us to be the forgiveness of God in the world here and now.