19th February. 7th Sunday of Year B.
Is 43:18-25. God is going to give a new and remarkable demonstration of divine, saving love. The people’s sins will be forgiven and a better future opened up.
2 Cor 1:18-22. Paul claims to be reliable, a man of his word, following the faithful Christ, who is not “Yes and No;” for in him it is always “Yes.”
Mk 2:1-12. Jesus claims personal authority to forgive sins, and proves it by curing a paralysed man.
Theme: If we bury ourselves in nostalgia we may neglect our true calling. Our mission is not towards the past but to plough a new furrow, to make new pathways and to tame the wilderness. We must be future-orientated, looking forward to the Promised Land.
Pondering the Miracles
Not many today accept the view that Jesus did not work any miracles except the conversion of hearts. The tradition that Our Lord did signs and wonders is just too powerful to be casually dismissed. The stories do leave open the question of the precise nature of the miracles but we need not doubt that Jesus provoked astonishment. According to Mark, he did signs and wonders to show that the kingdom of God was at hand. The issue of how he did them is less important than that he did them and why he did them. His miracles of healing human bodies showed, as in today’s Gospel, that he came to heal our spiritual hunger too.
The Power to See
Probably a good proportion of the people in this church are wearing glasses. If we misplace our glasses at home we often have trouble finding them. I sometimes need glasses to find my glasses, which is why I always keep a spare pair in a drawer in my desk. Apart from difficulties with our physical sight, there are other ways we can have difficulty in seeing. When we experience life as a trial and a struggle we can become so focused on the negative that we can fail to see what is good or promising in the situation.
The first reading was addressed to the people of Israel when they were in exile in Babylon, at the darkest hour in this people’s history. They were aware of so much they had lost; they had been taken from their land, the city of Jerusalem was a ruin, the Temple of God’s presence had been destroyed. Yet the prophet Isaiah felt another reality at work in all the failure, the loss, the devastation, if only his people could see it. God was preparing a miracle, creating something new out of the ruins, opening up an avenue in the wilderness. “See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it?” The people had great difficulty in seeing it.
Our God is a creative force in our lives. God did not simply create in the past, but is always working creatively in our midst, doing new deeds, bringing new life out of situations that might seem unpromising. The gospel reading this morning also reveals God doing a new deed, speaking a life-giving word into a situation of paralysis and guilt. “Your sins are forgiven; pick up your stretcher and go home.” God in the person of Jesus was making a new road in the wilderness of this man’s life. Not everyone present saw what happened as God doing a new deed. The scribes saw what was happening as an insult to God. “He is blaspheming.” Yet, there were others, the men and women of Capernaum, who saw more deeply, “We have never seen anything like this.” They recognized what was happening as God’s new deed, and they praised God for it.
We need to be more than just passive observers of what God is doing. God calls us to work with him in doing the new deed he seeks to do. We can create openings for God to work in new ways. This is what we see happening in the gospel reading this morning. When the friends of the paralytic created an opening in the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching, they were also creating an opening for God to work through Jesus in a new way. Their friendship of the paralytic created a space for God to work in a way which left some people saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” These four friends knew that Jesus was more interested in people than in buildings. Their strong friendship enabled the paralytic to experience the Lord’s life-giving presence. We need to befriend each other in similar ways if the Lord’s new deed is to get done. St. Paul reminds us that we carry the Spirit in our hearts. The act by the friends in today’s story shows the Spirit at work. When the Spirit works in similar ways among us, God’s new deed gets done.
Good Old Days
Ironically, the more we advance technologically, the more nostalgic we seem to become. We lapse into reminiscing about old times at the drop of a hat, or at least with every encounter with old friends. Nostalgia has proved a rich vein for TV programme makers. Each season has its own crop of revivals of old movies, like “Gone with the Wind.” New serials are created each year from old classics. Even the recent past has now become part of the “Good old days.” Leonard Cohen continues to pull in the crowds on his occasional tours.
Our penchant for looking back has many explanations. For some it is an escape from the drudgery of the present, or the uncertainties of the future. Most of us hanker after a lost innocence. Memories of our childhood fill us with warmth. It was the only time in our lives when we felt completely secure. The older we become the more we tend to indulge our nostalgia. There comes a point in everyone’s life when there is more to look back on than to look forward to.
Gilding the past is a dangerous deception. Recalling the good old days “when sex was dirty and the air was clean” is a gross misrepresentation of reality. Memory is highly selective. We remember the good times and bury the unpleasant. The summers of long ago were not all sunshine. Life in every age prior to ours was “nasty, brutish and short.” War, disease, and poverty were endemic. An old Russian proverb says, “Look too much at the past and you lose one eye.” While we should respect time-honoured traditions and cherish the distilled wisdom of our ancestors, mourning over a lost paradise is a dangerous illusion.
First Reading: Isaiah 43:18ff
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel! You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:17-22
Do I make my plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No;” but in him it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God. But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.
Gospel: Mark 2:1-12
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”-he said to the paralytic- “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”