The Sacrament of the Encounter
Sunday Homily for February 22, 2009
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (7B)
By Fr. James Gilhooley
Three small boys went to confession. The first told the priest, "I threw Peanuts in the lake." The second confessed the same crime. When the third came in, the priest said, "I suppose you threw peanuts in the lake too." The boy answered, "No, no, Father, I am Peanuts."
Palestinian life was public. In the early morning, the house door was opened. A stranger could enter and even expect welcome. Along came four men. They were carrying their buddy on a stretcher. The house in question was SRO. These fellows used Plan B. They got up to the roof by an exterior staircase. These staircases are still seen out in the Near East. These hombres had a faith that would make ours look like the bush league variety.
The roof was sun baked clay resting on twigs and branches. The clay sat on sycamore beams three feet apart. So, there was no big deal for these four paramedics, as Joseph Donders calls them, from tearing the roof apart with their hands. Then they would let their paralyzed buddy down from the ceiling by ropes.
Jesus was seated beneath them teaching this perspiring packed crowd. All of a sudden He had to pick dirt and branches from His eyes and hair. Christ got a chuckle out of the incident. He was witnessing what somebody called a faith that laughs at barriers. The landlord wasn't amused.
In that group were VIP Scribes. They had walked three days from the Jerusalem Central Office to check Christ out.
The paralytic at Christ's feet was hyper with fear. Jesus puts him at ease by addressing him as "My son." More importantly He tells him, "Your sins are forgiven." Vincent McCorry tells us to note Jesus does not ask God to forgive sins. He forgives them.
Forgiving sins may seem to us an odd way to begin a cure but not to the Jews in that house. According to them, the man was ill because he or his family had sinned. Indeed the awareness of that sin may well have caused the paralysis. The power of mind over body is something we haven't yet figured out. Thus, forgiveness of the man's sins must come before the cure.
The Scribes went bonkers. The Jews believed only God could forgive sins and only in a future judgment. Even their greatest prophets never pretended to forgive sins. Here this Galilean peasant was doing just that. They silently judged Him guilty of blasphemy. The penalty for such was death by stoning.
Christ saw the busy little wheels moving in their heads. He decided to go on the offensive and call their bluff. He said to the man, "Get up. Pick up your mat and go home." The delighted fellow did just that. His buddies and he must have had a marvelous party that night. Their hangovers notwithstanding, one hopes they came back to fix the roof next day.
The Scribes got the message loud and clear. "If I can make paralyzed legs work, I can forgive sins."
Check an interesting point. In this Gospel, Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man. He will continue to do that in other Gospels. Yet, nobody else will refer to Him as that. We still do not understand the term or what He meant by it. Perhaps He was preparing people for what He was - the Son of God.
In the long history of religion, as William Blake points out, Jesus was the first person to claim that one's sins can be forgiven by God here on earth. There is not one virtue that Christ suggested that Plato and Cicero had not hyped long before Him. But Christ leaves them both in the dust by forgiving sins.
Are we responsible to God for our sins? Jesus says a resounding yes. Later on, He will give His apostles the power to forgive sins.
The theology of the Sacrament of Penance has been reexamined. The emphasis has been placed on its poetry, beauty, and transcendence. It is called often today the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through the sacrament, we reconcile ourselves with God. In the oppressive darkness of the tight wooden confessional, the sinner encounters the same Christ that the paralytic met centuries ago in that house in Palestine.
The Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of the Encounter, the Sacrament of Reconciliation are all one an the same. They are a Tiffany-class gift from Jesus.
When was the last time you took advantage of the sacrament? After all, as somebody has pointed out, you must first face your sins before you can put them behind you.
And, if all you did was throw Peanuts in the lake, you have nothing to worry about.