A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, February 19, 2012 | Carl E. Olson
• Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
• Ps 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14
• 2 Cor 1:18-22
• Mk 2:1-12
If you think going to confession can sometimes be daunting, imagine having to dig a hole down through a roof in order to have your sins forgiven. Of course, some of us might rather dig a hole than go to confession! As my pastor points out, people tend to approach the sacrament of forgiveness with great trepidation. And yet afterwards they admit, relieved and rather sheepish, “That was wonderful! Why didn’t I do that sooner?”
Everyone who has recognized the need for confession can appreciate the words of St. Augustine: “You have been a paralytic inwardly. You did not take charge of your bed. Your bed took charge of you.” Today’s Gospel reading, which recounts the well-known story of the paralytic lowered through the roof, makes a clear and direct connection between physical infirmity and spiritual sickness.
It’s not that the infirmity is caused by the sin. Rather, in considering a physical weakness or illness—a crippled limb, blindness, cancer—we can understand, by analogous means, what sin does to our souls. It saps away our spiritual life, it deforms our hearts, and it infects our minds, separating us from communion with God and placing us in danger of eternal damnation.
Admittedly, it’s not pleasant to talk about such things. Then again, it’s far better to consider the possibility now—and act accordingly—than to face the reality later. And all of today’s readings focus, in one way or another, on the choice facing each one of us: to admit our sins and have them forgiven, or to turn our backs on God’s merciful love. These distinct choices can lead to tension and conflict within our souls, a battle that St. Paul expressed poignantly when he wrote, “For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Rom. 7:15).
Jesus brought this tension into the open by revealing two things: his divinity and the scribes’ disbelief. While it might seem more logical if Jesus had healed the paralytic and then forgiven his sins, the opposite took place. The scene was undoubtedly a strange one, as those listening to Jesus suddenly had clay and thatch falling upon their heads. Perhaps they thought the roof was caving in on them. Yet as the paralytic was lowered down, Jesus did not chastise the man’s anxious friends. Instead, he saw the faith that motivated them and he immediately went to the heart of the matter, saying to the man, “Child, your sins are forgiven."
By doing so, Jesus emphasized the priorities of the Kingdom, which are not ultimately about the relief of temporal ills—as important as that is—but about saving eternal souls from spiritual death. His statement was also a claim to divinity, as the scribes recognized: “Who but God alone can forgive sins?” The healing that followed was a miraculous, outward sign of the hidden, inward change wrought by the Son of Man. Like all of the miracles performed by Jesus, it gave concrete proof of his identity, the reality of his Kingdom, and the love of God for man.
Today’s readings help us to prepare for Lent by reminding us of our need to examine ourselves and to confess our sins. “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” the prophet Isaiah states in the Old Testament reading, “In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.” The sacrament of reconciliation is a way in the desert of Lent, a river of life in the wasteland of the world, for it brings us into direct, healing contact with Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the Savior of mankind.
“In their ministry of the forgiveness of sin,” wrote St. Ambrose, “pastors do not exercise the right of some independent power. For not in their own name but in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit do they forgive sins.” Thankfully, there is no need to climb buildings or dig holes. Just open the door to the confessional.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the February 22, 2009, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)