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22 Feb 2009

“When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’”  (Mark 2:5)            In the name …

A couple of weeks ago we read of Jesus’ cure of Peter’s mother-in-law.  He touched her and the fever left. Once word of this miracle got around the small town of Capernaum, the whole town showed up at the door looking for Jesus to perform a miracle for them too.  And as we mentioned two weeks ago, when everyone went to sleep that night, Jesus snuck out of the house, went away to a deserted place by Himself, and prayed for guidance.  The next morning the disciples found Jesus, and to their surprise He told them they must leave Capernaum and go to preach in other places, for that is the purpose of His life and ministry.  Today in the Gospel we hear of Jesus’ return to Capernaum.  The previous events repeat themselves.  The people of the village swarm to Jesus.  The crowd was so large that one group of friends carried a paralyzed man up to the roof of Jesus’ house.  They dug through the thatch and mud roof to get to Jesus because there wa s no other way to get near Him.  When Jesus saw what they had done, He credited their faith, and said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” 

Jesus had originally left Capernaum because He didn’t want to become limited as a healer.  He told His disciples the purpose of His life was more than this.  He came to preach, to bring others to God, to instill a renewed faith in people.  Healing was a sign of Jesus’ gift of God, but it was only the shell not the substance, not the purpose.  Now that Jesus had returned there was pandemonium outside of His house as people again only wanted Jesus’ miracles.  This was why He left in the first place.  This was not enough.  And this is why the first words we hear from Jesus amid all of this bedlam are not about healing, but about faith.  His words are not “You are healed,” but “You are forgiven.”  He’s trying to turn the people’s attention to God’s priorities, to move from shell to substance.  This reflects the purpose of Jesus’ whole life and the reason for His preaching.  This is Jesus’ greatest gift.  And yet was it, is it, recognized as enough?  Were the people of Jesus’ day satisfied, and even more importantly are we satisfied when Jesus promises God’s spiritual gifts?

This past Monday the choir held its rehearsal after Bp. Hodur’s Requiem Mass.  Maryanna Foster brought in the book The Shack.  It’s a fanciful tale about meeting the Holy Trinity.  She was so impressed with the book that she purchased several copies and shared them with members of the Choir, one of whom was Sharon.  When I attended the diocesan Clergy Retreat at the Genesis Retreat Center in Westfield last November, I met a woman there who also was on retreat.  Because of the severe shortage of clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, this lay woman was in charge of a parish in Upstate New York.  In our conversations, she mentioned to me that for her retreat she was reading and meditating upon a book called The Shack.  I promised her I would read the book, then forgot, and then Maryanna shows up with the same book.  I figure now I have to read it.

One of the messages that I found most important in The Shack was the idea that in Jesus all are forgiven, but forgiven doesn’t equal relationship.  In other words, God has done His part, but not all of us follow through and do our part.  God in Jesus removes the barriers that can separate us from Him.  He holds nothing against us.  He waits to welcome us.  However, many are willing to take from God, like the people in Capernaum were willing to be healed by Jesus, but are not willing to make it personal with God.  People were quite satisfied to be healed and to rush out the door without any more concern for what Jesus brought of God into our world.  Forgiveness was not in their plans.  Getting close to God was not why they dug through the roof.  They wanted something from God, but it wasn’t relationship.  And I have to wonder if people have changed all that much since that day in Capernaum.  Are we still preoccupied with what we can take from God rather than trying to build a relationship that we can keep with God?

On Wednesday we begin our journey of Lent.  It won’t make one bit of difference to a lot of people.  I might as well talk to the wall.  The chance at building relationship with God is not a priority.  We set the rules, and for many forgiveness is enough.  It gets us out of fearing death and what lies beyond.  That’s enough.  But those are our rules, not God’s.  God wants relationship.  The symbolism of Wednesday’s ashes, the point of beginning Lent by marking our foreheads with the burned palms of previous years, is to force us to confront the reality that our rules are not enough.  The people of Jerusalem welcome Jesus on Palm Sunday as King.  They cry out “Hosanna.”  But when they discover that Jesus will not bend to their will, their shouts turn to “Crucify Him!”  Then the palms once used to honour Jesus are seen as false praise.  When they are burned and placed on our foreheads, we can’t help but be struck by the message that our journey of Lent begins when we realize that sin is simply replacing God’s will with our own, and God is satisfied by nothing less than relationship.  Forgiveness is the first step, not the destination. 

Read The Shack if you want a more florid description of this teaching.  The Holy Trinity, not just Jesus of Nazareth, is scarred by the cross, and that scar is always there not only to forgive us, but to allow us to come back to God, to build a relationship with God.  God suffers due to our separation, and the only healing is relationship.  To restore relationship is the purpose of Lent.  Not sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice, but a time to purge some of the distractions from our lives so that we have more time to concentrate on God, more time to try and build a relationship with God.  This is the reason for Lent, and this all lies ahead of us as potential as we stand now in the shadow of Ash Wednesday.  We can make Lent real by paying attention to the warning of the ashes and follow through by making the next 40 days the road away from separation and toward relationship.  God has done His part; Lent gives us the opportunity to do ours.  May Jesus help us to appreciate that forgiveness was earned by God’s scars, and that they are only made worthwhile when we choose to come back to Him.  For this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)


Fr. Randy Calvo


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