Can we truly be forgiven? Sunday ReadingsPodcast of the Sunday Readings Sunday Bible Study QuestionsVideo Reflections Lecturas y Comentarios New American BiblePrayer of the HoursBQ: Should you Confess before you receive Communion?
Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Times (7B), Feb. 19, 2012
By Fr. Orlando, Sapuay, M.S.
The story before us is quite amazing: People were flocking to Jesus from all over Galilee. Why? Because they had caught a vision…the vision of a new world (also known as ‘the Kingdom of God’) where God was tangibly, actively, intimately present on earth! It was a vision of radical change, where the old ways of priestly hierarchy and meaningless rituals were overtaken by a new and personal encounter with the Living God.
How did they get this vision? According to Mark, chapter 1, Jesus alone was the source of this new vision! As He moved amongst the cities and towns of Galilee, the people could see something different about Him. Not only were numerous miraculous events occurring through this man, but, by His very presence, a new sense of hope was being stirred as people began to view life differently. In Him, a new and radical faith was beginning to bubble forth!
But there was one final question that many people would have still been asking themselves, hoping that, in Jesus Christ, there would be a positive answer. Their silent question was, “Can we truly be forgiven? Can we be set free from all our sins?” It was a critical question for the Jews of Jesus’ day. After all, they had often been taught by their teachers that God was more interested in punishing sin than he was in forgiving it! (Sadly, people today are still being taught the same thing!)
This is the context of what happens in Mark, chapter 2, verses 1-12. A paralytic man is taken by his four friends to see Jesus. These 4 men (like so many others in Israel) are obviously growing in boldness. They are starting to gain a new kind of faith, based in a new vision of God given to them by this man, Jesus Christ. And so, they arrive at the place where Jesus is reported to be, convinced that He will heal their friend… but they can’t get in! So, what do they do? In an act of ever-increasing faith in Jesus, they carry the man up to the roof, dig a hole through the mud and tiles, and lower the sick man down to Jesus on ropes.
By faith they’re expecting that their friend will be healed. But look what happens? Verse 5: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now, think carefully about this—From the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been doing three things: teaching, casting out demons and healing people. In this case, He could have simply continued in this pattern by saying to the paralytic, “OK, get up—You’re healed!” But Jesus doesn’t follow the pattern! Instead, out of the blue (v 5), Jesus declares, “Son, your sins are forgiven!” Why does He do this?
For hundreds of years, the people of Israel had been incorrectly taught about the nature of God. They had been taught that, due to Israel’s sinfulness, God remained remote and distant…more interested in punishment than in forgiveness.
Furthermore, the Teachers of the Law insisted that the only way God would forgive you is if you fulfilled certain conditions: First, you had to feel really sorry for your sin. Then, you had to prove you were sorry by making correct sacrifices. You had to pay some kind of price for your sins.
Finally, before you could be forgiven, you had to change your evil ways and prove that you really were worthy of God’s grace.
Are these ideas about forgiveness from God or from man? What, for example, does Psalm 103 say about God’s forgiveness? “The Lord is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities… As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” It’s clear, isn’t it? There are no conditions listed…not even one!
The only thing we read here is the unquenchable desire of God to embrace the human race…to draw us to himself in forgiving love that we might be washed redeemed, renewed, transformed and restored! No strings attached!