Seventh Sunday of the Year. Fr Aelred Connelly invites us to allow Christ to free us from the paralysis of sin.
The local football team from my part of Fife, Dunfermline Athletic, are nick-named ‘The Pars’, supposedly short for paralytic, from a period in the past when their fortunes were at a very low ebb. The paralytic in today’s gospel story was unable to do anything for himself. He is carried on a stretcher by four men who strip the roof above Jesus and lower the paralytic before him.
Those gathered around Jesus expect a physical healing, but Jesus on his mission brings a much greater gift, the healing of the wounds of sin, which cuts us off from a relationship with our heavenly Father. This is foretold in today’s psalm, ‘The lord will help him on his bed of pain, he will bring him back from sickness to health. As for me, I said “Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul for I have sinned against you.”‘
Like the paralytic in the Gospel, we are unable to do anything but confess our sins before the Lord. Healing and mercy come from him alone. ‘Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”‘ He speaks as from the heart of the Father. Through his forgiveness and mercy, we become children of God, but this can only come through faith in his only Son, who has authority on earth to forgive sins. This is at the very heart of today’s Gospel message. Jesus does indeed have the power to forgive sins.
The accusation in the hearts of the scribes is, in essence, what will send Jesus eventually to his death on the Cross. ‘How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God? Yes this is happening in their very midst, proved by the miracle of physical healing. The paralytic goes off home restored in body and soul. So prophesies Isaiah in today’s first reading: ‘See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light, can you not see it?’ The people in the Gospel praise God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’ The deeper reality can only truly be seen with the eyes of faith.
This is not just God blotting out or not remembering our sins, but a making new of all things through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul assures us of this in today’s second reading from the second letter to the Corinthians. ‘Remember, it is God himself who assures us all, and you, of our standing in Christ, and has anointed us, marking us with his seal and giving us the pledge, the Spirit, that we carry in our hearts.’ These are the gifts of faith, hope and charity, received in Baptism, further strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, and nourished by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, are restored in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, most appropriately celebrated in the coming season of Lent.
During this time, and indeed throughout the Church’s year, we follow the public ministry of Jesus as he preaches the Good News of the Kingdom of God, especially to those who experience being cut off for whatever reason from the loving mercy of God. In the early chapters of Mark’s Gospel, we have seen Jesus choosing his closest followers sending them out in their turn to become fishers of men. St Dominic did the same with his earliest companions to preach the good news of salvation.
The same task and vocation is there for those of us following both Jesus’s and Dominic’s footsteps today. As I said to the young men of our small group-Masses in the prison where I work, it is in their interest to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, the permanent diaconate and the religious life. Their future access to the sacramental life of the Church may well depend on it. It is just one of the places where the preaching of the healing mercy of God is so needed in our time.
When we enter the Order of Preachers, we are asked, ‘What do you seek?’ and we answer ‘God’s mercy and yours’. It is only by being aware of the need for God’s mercy that we are also made aware of the need to be merciful to our fellow human beings, and in turn probably to receive mercy from them. Only through that mercy can we be freed from the paralysis that comes from sin and the hardening of our hearts. God be merciful to me, a sinner.