Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rise, Pick Up Your Bed, And Go Home.

Today’s First Reading is from Chapter 43 of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In the verse before this reading, the Prophet reminds the People of what the LORD has done for them in the past: It was he who opened a path of dry land through the Red Sea, and caused the waters to return again so that the horses and chariots of the Egyptians got mired in the mud.

Now he says, “That was then, this is now. If you think that was marvelous, just wait until you see what I’m going to do for you now. Your ancestors, the people I formed for myself, credited themselves when times were good, and forgot about me when times were bad. Even now, you burden me with your sins and weary me with your crimes. But I am going to wipe the slate clean of your offenses, and forget all your sins. Not because you deserve to be forgiven, but for my own sake.

By these words, God sets in perspective the saving event which we are preparing to celebrate: the Redemption of the sinfulness not only of the children of Abraham, but of all the offspring of Adam, and the beginning of a new Covenant between the Creator and His people, a Covenant not based on the fear of punishment, but on love, as God’s people learn to obey God’s will, to love Him with all our heart and mind and might, and our neighbor as ourselves, not because we dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but because we have offended God our Father, who brought us into being as an outpouring of His love, who sent his only-begotten Son to atone for our sins, as an outpouring of His love, and who enlightens our understanding and strengthens our resolve to do what is best and avoid what is not so good by sending His Holy Sprit to guide us on the right paths for His name’s sake.

The Gospel of this Sunday before Ash Wednesday fits in with the transition from Ordinary Time to a time of penance and reconciliation, the Lenten Season. Jesus returns of Capharnaum, and the people begin to find out that he’s home again. Once more, so many of them gather at the house that the doorway is blocked. While Jesus is teaching, four men bring a paralytic on a litter. They can’t get in, because of the crowd, so they climb to the roof and remove enough of the tiles to allow them to lower the mat with the man lying on it into the room. Jesus looks at them, and says to the man on the litter, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” And the man is healed.

The men who brought the paralytic to Jesus were expecting him to be healed, just as Jesus had healed many sick people before. But Jesus is well aware that folks in Capharnaum and throughout Israel believe that sickness of the body is a sign of sickness of the soul – of sin. So, instead of saying, “Be healed”, he says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Now, the scribes and Pharisees, who seem to be everywhere, catch the double meaning of the words of Jesus. “Who can forgive sins except God?” they ask themselves. Realizing what they are thinking, Jesus then tells the man to get up, to pick up his sick bed – the evidence of his paralysis, and go home. And that’s just what he does. Jesus is doing something new and different, and the observers take notice: “We have never seen anything like this!” That is certainly true. For the first time, Jesus reveals Himself as who He truly is, not merely a healer of bodies, a gift which was given to some of the prophets in earlier ages, but a healer of souls, a gift which belongs to God alone.

The coming days of Lent are a good time to allow Jesus to “do his thing” in us and through us. Which of us, when we are offended, thinks of saying, “I forgive you, even though I don’t feel like you ought to be forgiven”, because, in our heart of hearts, we recognize that God forgives us, even though we don’t deserve to be forgiven. We are the new creation which has been wrought by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them! They don’t know what they are doing.” We are not God, who alone is perfect. We are not angels, who have accepted that, as creatures, they are not perfect. We are human beings, and we are paralyzed, not by illness, but by guilt, that feeling that we don’t deserve to be forgiven. Jesus wants to heal us, but he can only do that if we let down our defenses, and take him at his word as he says to each of us, “Rise, let go of the paralysis of guilt, and return home.” May this Lenten Season be for each of us a joyful homecoming!

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