7th Sunday OT: Isa 43.18-19, 21-22, 24-35; 2 Cor 1.18-22; Mark 2.1-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation
The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. The Lord is bringing us fresh water, good food, cheerful company. And we, well, we bring flat sodas, stale bread, and stingy, griping hearts. The Lord laughs and we cry. The Lord forgives and we nurse our wounds. OK! We’re not that bad, but I’m making a point: it is Who God Is to bring in, to make welcome, to spread abundance, to forgive offenses, to make well, induce joy, persuade to repentance, and to reconcile. It is Who God Is to send out over and over and over again the summons for us to come back to Him, to return to His family, and rest in His abundant love and grace. Like the man paralyzed, we can be made sick by sin, paralyzed—spiritually—with fear, anxiety, self-loathing, and a nearly insatiable longing for forgiveness. And like the paralyzed man, we can be healed. But do we (do you?) want it? Do you want to be healed?
The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. The Lord is healing the sick—the leper, the man born blind, the man born deaf and unable to speak—; he’s tossing demons out of long-possessed souls, freeing them from the grip of the Evil One; he’s teaching his law of love and his law of mercy to his students and the crowds; and he’s standing there and here, hand out, waiting, waiting, waiting for them, for you, me, for us to take it and get well. To be reconciled, made whole again. Do we (do you?) want to be healed? What possesses us and prevents us from the simple act of reaching back, taking Jesus’ hand, and making all things right again?
The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. The paralyzed man, lowered from the ceiling, is not hoping to be given the freedom of his arms and legs again. There is no guesswork there at all. He knows his healing is in reach. He knows his freedom, his recovery is right there in the person of Jesus Christ. The wiping away of his sin, the washing clean of his spirit is just inches away. And he knows that he will rise, pick up his mat, and walk home. The scribes doubt; they fidget and worry, murmur and twitch about the alleged blasphemy, the seemingly outrageous claim of Jesus to heal by forgiving sins. But they end up astounded; they end up glorifying God, and saying with everyone else: “We have never seen anything like this.” Their doubt is banished by undeniable evidence. What prevents us (you?) from reaching back to Jesus for healing, for forgiveness?
The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. One very harmful “same old thing” that we keep doing over and over is believing that we can come to good spiritual health on our own. We can work at prayer hard enough, labor away at fasting and abstinence long enough, plug away at fighting temptation, engaging in spiritual warfare, and building up enough credit with God over time that we can cash it all in and buy some grace, purchase for ourselves a little piece of divine real estate. Maybe turn away the Lord’s anger with a neat little gift of holy work. Yea. Good luck with that.
Let’s be perfectly clear: the battle against sin and death is over. We won. There is no battle to fight. To war to wage. There is no work left to do. Jesus won the last battle on the Cross. Sin and death are dead. We are free. That we continue to sin results from the exercise of that freedom; its abuse. The right use of our freedom enslaves us to God’s will and yanks us gleefully to the Father to do His holy work for others. Our Father’s love cannot be earned; it cannot be bought; it cannot be begged or threatened or negotiated for. How can it? It is ours already. Freely given on the altar of the Cross. Freely given on this altar of sacrifice. Why would it ever occur to us (to you?) to kill ourselves working to pay of something that is not only free but ours (yours) already?!
The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. Another harmful “same old thing” we do is cling to our sins once they are absolved. We mull them over, worry about them, fret that maybe, just maybe the Lord missed one, or that I didn’t really feel sorry enough for that one, so it’s still there. Sins forgiven are sins forgotten. Let them go. No one cured of cancer fondly remembers the tumor. So, why do we cling to our sins once they are forgiven? There is a appropriate sense of guilt at work here. Good people feel guilty about sinning. Good, they should. It means they are fundamentally good people and not sociopaths. But completing the assigned penance is enough. You are forgiven. Now forget and rejoice in your victory! If you won’t hear me, hear what the Lord said to us through Isaiah: “You burdened me with your sins, and wearied me with your crimes. It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.” Your sins I remember no more.
The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. OK. You’ve had some time to think about it: what prevent us (you?) from reaching back to Jesus, from laying claim to the freedom of the Cross, from going to confession? No doubt it’s different for everyone, but my guess is that it is b/c the sacrament of reconciliation not only requires confession of sins, contrition, and penance, it also requires repentance, conversion of heart and mind and the resolve to sin no more. Conversion is the hardest thing we do as Christians. Conversion means taking a hard look at our lives from God’s view. Making a clear, honest assessment of where we are with God, where we’re going, and saying with some integrity: “I’m stuck. And I’m stuck b/c my sin is weighing me down.” The grace to move toward the sacrament, the spiritual energy (if you will) is provided by the Holy Spirit. If you feel moved, prompted to confess—do it! The Holy Spirit is thumping you on the head and saying, “What are you waiting for? Your sins are forgiven. Go claim your victory in the sacrament! I have work for you to do and you’re just sitting there stuck.”
Our Lord’s invitation to live with Him forever is open-ended. Always there, always new and fresh. The victory against sin is won. That battle is over. We just have to claim the victory, reach back to Christ through his church, name our sins, ask for forgiveness and feel the freedom of a white-washed soul, a pristine spirit, ready for doing the Lord’s work in the world. The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. But we don’t have to—we are freed from destructive routine, habitual sin, malicious memories of our past, the compulsive need to earn mercy, and the reluctance to face our sin and ask for absolution.
We are free. We are healed.
Rise! Pick up your mat! And come home!