Extraordinary times call for extraordinary action

7th Sunday Year B
19 February 2012
Dcn Les Ruhrmund

We are only a few days away from the start of Lent and the readings remind us that notwithstanding our fickleness in faith and persistent sinfulness, God is faithful, forgiving and true.

In the first reading, the prophet says that God is doing something for his people greater than anything he has done before. “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light, can you see it?” God’s action in delivering Israel from captivity in Babylon is presented as an even greater marvel than the exodus from Egypt; and these things happened in spite of the people’s continued sinfulness. “Even though you have burdened me with your sins” says the Lord “I it is, who chooses to forgive.” Isaiah says that God’s redeeming action is not something that happened in the past but is happening in the present. This promise from God, this good news of forgiveness and salvation finds fulfilment in the ministry of Jesus.

The psalm in our readings is a confident petition for healing: “Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul for I have sinned against you.”

We offer similar petitions within the liturgy of the Mass but this may be a good prayer to remember and repeat often every day through Lent as we prepare for Easter. Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul for I have sinned against you.

We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners – but that doesn’t make us any less sinful, it rather highlights our flawed sense of self-importance. Almost without exception, we fail to love God and love our neighbour as we should and to this extent, we are gravely sinful.

The Gospel reading is familiar and well loved and one that is packed with powerful revelations about Jesus and about God. The story follows on directly from last week’s Gospel which finished with Jesus having to spend time in remote areas away from the towns to avoid the crowds. Jesus has returned to his home in Capernaum and the people, all wanting to be close to him, are packed into his house and even outside there is crowd jammed around the front door. In the crowd outside is a paralysed man being carried in a stretcher by four friends who’d obviously heard about some of the healing miracles that Jesus had performed and they’re determined to get help for their paralysed friend. They can’t get into the house through the door and decide to get in through the roof. This would not have been too difficult. The typical Palestinian house had a flat roof that was used as a cool place to sleep on hot summer nights and there were stairs on the side of the house running up to the roof. The roof itself was made of flat wooden beams placed nearly a metre apart and the space between the beams was filled with brushwood and packed tight with clay. It was not difficult to dig out the clay filling and create a gap through which to lower the stretcher. It also would have been relatively easy to repair.

The common belief among the Jewish people at that time was that sickness was a punishment from God for sin. They would have believed that the man in the stretcher was paralysed because of his sins. The scribes sitting in the house would have been shocked out of their sandals when Jesus told the man that his sins were forgiven; only God can forgive sins. He was doing nothing less than claiming to be God. A claim that was punishable by death. Jesus challenges their doubts about his authority to both heal and bring forgiveness. He asks if it easier to say your sins are forgiven or to say get up and walk. The scribes are in trouble with both options. If the man is paralysed because of his sin then the only way he will ever walk again is if his sins are forgiven. The one option is proof of the other. The man does get up and he walks out of the house through the astonished crowd. And Mark tells us that the people praised God saying “we’ve never seen anything like this.” Jesus not only revealed who he was to the scribes and the crowds but he also revealed a loving, caring, compassionate God who wants to heal and forgive our sins. That was not the popular perception of God at that time.

We know with some certainty that sickness is not a punishment inflicted on us by God in response to our sins. But that’s not to say that we don’t suffer because of our sins. Are not many of us mentally and spiritually paralysed to some extent or other because of our sins? Limited in our ability to love God and to love each other more because of our selfishness, self-centredness; our egos. We focus on ourselves and our need for the affection and acceptance of others at the expense of loving and serving them. We substitute our trust in God with faith in our ability to control everything.

Perhaps during the coming weeks of Lent we can look deeply into our hearts and find those things that cause paralysis in our ability to love more. What is it that inhibits our generosity of spirit, time and offerings? What do we need to do to be kinder, more tolerant, patient and forgiving?

The disciplines of prayer, fast and charity will assist us enormously but to be really effective we should take our cue from the four men carrying the stretcher. They couldn’t get to Jesus in the usual way and had to use extraordinary means to get close to him. If we want to get close to Jesus during this Lent we need to do more than muddle through the season with some token sacrifices of time, favourite food and pleasures.

Lent is a time for extraordinary action and when we get close to Jesus we can expect extraordinary and astonishing results.


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