Sunday, 19 February 2012

Week 07 (Year B) Sunday -- 19 February 2012

Readings: Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25; Psalm 40 (41); 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12

Jesus is at home and people are seeking him out. How do we have access to him? What if we need to be carried to him, to be brought into his house? Is it easier to say it all happens at some kind of spiritual (= invisible) level, than to say 'wait and you will see paralysed people walking again'? (As a schoolboy I thought it was more difficult to say 'your sins are forgiven' than to say 'arise and walk' on the grounds that a spiritual healing was more radical than a physical one, sin a more recalcitrant obstacle to divine grace than physical illness.)

The first reading encourages us to regard the paralysed man in the gospel as 'Israel', and so as the Church, ourselves. This is - we are - the burden God has chosen to carry. And both are weary: God is tired carrying Israel and Israel is tired being carried. Where might fresh energy and joy come from? Cardinal Ratzinger had much to say about this twelve years ago or so: a tiredness in the Church and with the Church, a tiredness in life - in this culture of leisure in which so many people are tired. Perhaps things are different now. But God can 'do a new thing', Isaiah says, and the paralysed man getting up immediately, taking up his bed, and walking home in front of everybody, is a great example of new energy and joy.

The forgiveness of sins is not just a decision by God to forget the past but God's creation of a new future - not just cancelling out a 'bum note' but making it to be the first note in a new symphony. (The image is Fulton Sheen's: I heard him using it in Dublin in, I think, 1966.) The one who was lying prostrate is not just sitting up, not just standing up: he's walking! Grace, we are taught, is not just healing but also elevating. God's affirmation and re-affirmation of His creation gets it going again, heals its ills, but also fills it with new life.

The scribes are not impressed and find this too intimate, too physical a contact between God and the people, blasphemous. Who can forgive sins but God alone? Who can come into the hearts of God's people but God alone? (A contemporary version of that might be: 'I believe in Christ of course but you can keep the Church. Why should I trust these unreliable and unsteady people to have anything to do with my relationship with God?')

One commentator suggests that the four men who carried the paralytic into the presence of Jesus were Peter, Andrew, James, and John, fresh from their call to follow him and to be with him in his work. When we are told that Jesus is 'at home' it is Peter's house that he has made his home. This suggestion may be fanciful but there are others that cannot be denied: the man has to be carried by other people into the presence of Jesus, and seeing their faith (not his) Jesus begins to act. We are never isolated individuals in this relating to God, but belong to a people, depend on a community.

The point is made clearer by the fact that we have this second reading from 2 Corinthians. God's 'yes' is carried into the creation by Jesus and is continued in history by the Church. That second reading talks about the work of Christ, our worship of God 'through Christ' in the great 'Amen', the effect in us of baptism and confirmation: that we are christened, that we have a standing in Christ (as the Jerusalem Bible puts it), because we have been sealed with the Spirit, given a guarantee in our hearts.

But we cannot be part of any of that except in the Church and through the Church. It would be easier to say 'these things happen spiritually, invisibly'. But that we might know what is going on, and that we might see God active among His people, the 'yes' of Jesus reaches us through the Church. (The visible is more difficult to believe than the invisible!) We might at times resent that, find it incredible, blasphemous even - who can forgive sins but God alone? But ours is not a (purely) spiritual religion - our hope is that God's grace finds its way to transforming not just our hearts and minds but our bodies too, including that body which is the Church, and that body which is the human community and for which the Church exists.

The words are addressed directly to us also: 'get up, take up your bed, and walk'.

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