Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

19 February 2012


Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 19, 2012

     For five consecutive Sundays we’ve been treated to readings from Mark’s gospel.  And there are many more to come – most of the Sundays of this year, in fact.  Mark’s is probably the easiest gospel to read and hear since it is colorful and uncluttered, and the Jesus who emerges from its stories is wonderfully human, although he often gets our attention by doing what God alone can do.  Today’s story is a case in point.  It is vintage Mark: vivid, colorful, memorable.

     You can picture, can’t you, that house where Jesus was staying and “preaching the word” as Mark puts it?  All those people spilling out the front door, so much so that no one could get near the place?  What a disappointment to those four fellows who arrived at the house carrying their paralyzed friend, hoping against hope to get him close to Jesus.  It looked like they were out of luck.  There was no way they were going to penetrate that crowd and get anywhere near Jesus.

     But friends have their ways, and faith has its ways, too.  If one door was closed, they would find another to open.  And they did: a hole in the roof and the ingenious lowering of their paralyzed friend right down to the feet of Jesus!  Friends do have their ways, and faith has its ways, too.  And the two are connected -- friends and faith -- very connected.  In the normal course of events, we don’t come to Jesus all alone.  We don’t. More often than not, we are led to him by others: family, or friends, or maybe by a whole community of believers -- like a parish –- believers whose faith speaks to us, telling us that here is that ‘more’ in life that we have been thirsting for.

      So it’s important for us to see ourselves in that story.  We are the paralyzed man and we depend on others to bring us to Jesus.  But we are also the friends who bring the paralyzed man to Jesus.  God uses people like us – flawed, far-from-perfect people, but good people, nonetheless – to bring others to Jesus.

      Now, take a closer look with me at Jesus in this story.  Notice how wonderfully patient and perceptive he is in dealing with what must have been a pretty dramatic, maybe even unwelcome interruption.  (I mean, here he is trying to teach people and suddenly there’s a great clatter from above and a poor fellow slowly drops down through the roof. Heavens, I’m sometimes bothered by the ring of a cell phone!)  Jesus, true to form, is serene, focused, and unflappable.  Nothing he has to say is more important at this moment than the paralyzed man and his friends.  Calmly and keenly, he fixes on two things: the faith of the four friends, and the sins of the paralyzed man.  “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘my child, your sins are forgiven.’”  

      Notice that it was the faith of the friends that caught Jesus’ attention, not the faith of the paralyzed man. Now, I don’t suppose it required any great insight on the part of Jesus to perceive the faith of the four friends (look at the ends they were willing to go to), but it took keen insight to know that the real burden of the poor paralyzed fellow was not his inability to walk but the crippling weight of his sin.  What was his sin?   Was it anger at God for his condition?  Was it a growing sense of despair about his life and his future?  We don’t know and we don’t need to.  All we know is that Jesus looked at him and knew in a moment that what this man needed more than anything else was forgiveness.  And forgiveness is what he gave him.

     But Jesus’ keen perceptiveness didn’t stop there.  Apparently there was an instant freeze among some in the crowd or, to use Mark’s words, “Jesus perceived in his spirit that the Scribes were questioning in their hearts his ability to forgive sins.”  They didn’t have to say anything: the Jesus who read the heart of the paralyzed man and saw his need for forgiveness quickly read the hearts of these small-minded Scribes and demonstrated for them by a wondrous act of healing what they needed to know but seemed so afraid to know – that the very power of God was right there among them.  In him.

     My friends, the question that Jesus was able to read in the hearts of those doubting Scribes, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” is a question we answer every time we come to this place.  And we know that the answer is: no one.  No one can forgive sins but God alone.  And we also know that that forgiveness comes to us from Jesus through the Church – Jesus, who waits for us to come with our burden of sin and selfishness and who always drops everything in order to speak to us words of forgiveness and healing.

            The next time you approach the great bronze doors out in front of the Cathedral, take a look at that one solitary figure who stands out near the bottom of the New Testament door.  He’s facing outward to catch your eye, and he’s pointing upwards toward Jesus who is meeting the paralyzed man and his friends with words of healing forgiveness.  And he’s shouting the question, “who can forgive sins but God alone?” In doing so, he reminds us of one very good reason why we keep coming to this cathedral.  We keep coming here because we’re sinners in need forgiveness, and we know that “no one can forgive sins but God alone.” We keep coming here because we are hungry and we long for the nourishment that only God’s Word and only the Eucharist can bring.  And we keep coming here because, like the paralyzed man, we have friends who bring us here, friends who keep us here!

     Father Michael G. Ryan


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