by Father William A. McLaughlin
THERE WAS A TIME when a person’s word was his bond. When someone promised something, his reputation depended on his keeping his word. This understanding worked when people lived together in smaller communities. Neighbors and business associates remembered promises, and it was in their interest to honor them. This seems lost now as our sense of community has dissolved and we do not know our neighbors.
God keeps His word, even when we do not. The first reading at Mass from the prophecy of Isaiah recalls a long history of broken promises – word not kept – by God’s chosen people. Through the human words of the prophet, the Lord recalls the infidelities of Jacob’s descendents. Their sins were so many that God had become wearied of them. Even worse, Israel had ceased to call upon God any longer. Yet, the Lord utters His word declaring that the past is forgotten, “See, I am doing something new.” He is faithful to the covenant and keeps His word. He remembers Israel’s offenses no more.
The voice of the psalmist is that of the person who admits he has broken his word to God through sin. Having been unfaithful to his covenant promise to obey God’s Law, the repentant sinner calls upon the Lord to heal his soul. The Lord pities him and takes away his illness, which is his sin. Forgiven and healed, he is again regarded by God as righteous. He exclaims, “You sustain me and let me stand before you forever.”
This points us to the great miracle of forgiveness and healing in today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark in which a paralytic is made to stand again before the Lord. Jesus is at home in Capernaum preaching the good news of the kingdom to an overflow crowd. The friends of the paralytic cannot make their way in to Jesus. In their determination for their friend to reach Jesus, they open the roof of the house and lower him down before the Lord. He is moved by their faith, and we might expect him to heal the man’s lifeless body. Instead, he gives the man His word that his sins are forgiven. This spiritual healing is more profound than a physical cure. Even
the scribes are startled, “Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Little do they realize at whose feet the forgiven – but still paralyzed – man lies.
Power to Heal Body and Soul
Jesus realizes the lack of faith of the scribes and asks them which is easier, to forgive the man his sins or to make him walk. Jesus has already done the more difficult thing. A physical healing could be verified immediately, but who can prove whether the man’s sins are truly wiped away? So that they might realize the authority of the Son of Man’s word to forgive sins, He then tells the paralytic to get up and walk. The Lord’s word has power, more than just to heal the body but to heal the soul.
God keeps His word totally. We should consider how well we keep our word to God. Are we faithful to the covenant promises that we made in our baptism? Does our “yes” to God really mean “yes,” or has it become the “no” of sin? How often have we denied the “yes” by our selfish “no”?
St. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that God means what He says, and so does Paul. There is no ambiguity in the Gospel of Christ, nor is there any in Paul’s preaching of it. God’s word is the total “yes” of truth. It is clear and has force, even the power to forgive our sinful “no.”
The Spirit of God with which we were anointed in baptism is the guarantee of God’s “yes” in the new covenant. This seal is His pledge. God always keeps His bond, even when we do not. He forgives our sins, and challenges us to mean what we say and remain faithful to our promises to Him.
During these past Sundays of Ordinary Time, the readings at Mass have guided the Church’s meditation on the forgiveness of sin which is the core of Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God in the world. They have served us well in preparing us to move this week into the penitential season of Lent. [hr] Readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
Psalm 41: 2-3, 4-5, 13-14
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12[hr] Father William A. McLaughlin, administrator of St. Fidelis parish, College Point, is an adjunct professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and teaches in the diocesan Pastoral Institute.