Sunday, February 19, 2012
The first conflict arising
from the proclamation of the Good News
The Good News of God is like a light:
it brings to light contradictions
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The Gospel text this Sunday deals with two intertwining themes: it describes the healing of a paralytic and mentions the discussion Jesus had with the doctors of the law or the scribes on the matter of forgiving sins.
b) A division of the text as an aid to the reading:
Mark 2:1-2: The people seek Jesus and Jesus proclaims the Word.
Mark 2:3-5: The faith of the paralytic and his friends obtains forgiveness of sins.
Mark 2:6-7: Jesus is accused of blasphemy by the authorities
Mark 2:8-11: To prove that he has the power to forgive sins, Jesus heals the paralytic.
Mark 2:12: The reaction of the people: “We have never seen anything like this!”
c) The text:
1 When he returned to Capernaum, some time later word went round that he was in the house; 2 and so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door. He was preaching the word to them.
3 when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, 4 but as they could not get the man to him through the crowd, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay. 5 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, 'My child, your sins are forgiven.'
6 Now some scribes were sitting there, and they thought to themselves, 7 'How can this man talk like that? He is being blasphemous. Who but God can forgive sins?'
8 And at once, Jesus, inwardly aware that this is what they were thinking, said to them, 'Why do you have these thoughts in your hearts? 9 Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven" or to say, "Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk"? 10 But to prove to you that the Son of man has authority to forgive sins on earth' -- 11 he said to the paralytic - 'I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.'
12 And the man got up, and at once picked up his stretcher and walked out in front of everyone, so that they were all astonished and praised God saying, 'We have never seen anything like this.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What pleased you most in this text and what caught your attention?
b) What is the conflict between Jesus and the scribes? Where did it take place and who started the argument? Why?
c) What does this text reveal about Jesus and about God the Father?
d) Do you think that there is a connection between sickness and sin?
e) What message does this text send to the communities at the time of Mark and to us today?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.
a) The Context
* In Mk 1:1-15, Mark showed how the Good News must be prepared and spread. Immediately after, in Mk 1:16-45, we find the teaching on the objective of the Good News and the mission of the communities. Now, in chapter 2, we find that the proclamation of the Good News, when carried out faithfully, is a source of conflict. In Mk 2:1-3,6, we come across five conflicts provoked against Jesus arising from the proclamation of the Good News of God.
* In the 70s, the time that Mark is writing, the proclamation of the Good News had given rise to many conflicts against the communities. They did not always know how to deal with these and how to answer the accusations brought against them by the Romans or by the Jews. The story of the five conflicts served as a kind of manual of directives.
* Mark 2:1-2: The people seek Jesus and wish to listen to the Word of God. Jesus is about to go home. The people seek him. Many people gather outside the door. Jesus welcomes all and Mark says that he proclaims the Word to the people. Often, Mark informs us that Jesus proclaims the Word of God to the people (Mk 1:21,22,27,39; 2:2,13; 4:1; 6:2,6,34; etc.). But only on a few occasions does he tell us what Jesus said. What did Jesus teach the people? He spoke of God and in order to do that he used examples from life (parables) and popular stories (the Bible). He spoke from his own experience of God. Jesus lived in God. The people listened to him willingly (Mk 1:22,27). His words touched their hearts. From what Jesus said, God, instead of being a harsh judge who threatened punishment and hell, became a friendly presence, good News for the people.
* Mark 2:3-5: The faith of the paralytic and his friends obtains forgiveness of sins. While Jesus is speaking, a paralytic comes carried by four persons. Jesus is their only hope. They climb on the roof, open it and let the paralytic down in front of Jesus. This is a sign of great solidarity. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, your sins are forgiven. In those times, people thought that physical defects, such as paralysis, were a punishment from God for some sin. The doctors taught that such a person was impure, incapable of getting close to God. That is why sick people, the poor, paralytics and many others felt rejected by God. But Jesus thought differently. He thought the opposite. The great faith of the paralytic and his friends was a sign that the man was at peace with God, welcomed by God. Hence Jesus says, your sins are forgiven. That is, “You are not far away from God”. Through this affirmation, Jesus denied that sickness was a punishment for the sins of that man.
* Mark 2:6-7: Jesus is accused by the chiefs of blaspheming. What Jesus said was not in accordance with that which the doctors of the law thought of God. They, therefore, react and accuse Jesus: He is being blasphemous! According to their doctrine, only God can forgive sins. And only a priest could pronounce people forgiven and purified. How is it, then, that Jesus of Nazareth, an uneducated man, an ordinary labourer, a carpenter, could pronounce people forgiven and purified from sin? Besides, they must have thought: “If what Jesus is saying is true, we risk losing our power and raison d’être! We could also lose our source of income”.
* Mark 2:8-11: Jesus heals in order to prove that he has power to forgive sins. Jesus understood that they were condemning him. That is why he asks: Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk’? Clearly it is easier to say: “Your sins are forgiven”, because no one can verify in fact whether the sin has been forgiven or not. But if I say: “Get up and walk”, then everyone can verify whether I have the power to heal or not. Thus, to show that he had the power to forgive sins in the name of God, Jesus said to the paralytic: Get up, pick up your stretcher and go off home! He healed that person. He proved that paralysis is not a punishment from God and that the faith of the poor is a sign that God had already welcomed him in love.
* Mark 2:12: The reaction of the people: we have never seen anything like this. The paralytic gets up, picks up his stretcher and goes off, and all exclaim: We have never seen anything like this! The meaning of the miracle is clear: 1) Sick people must not think that God is punishing them for some sin. 2) Jesus opened a new way to God. That which the religion of the time called impurity was no longer an impediment for a person to draw close to God. 3) The face of God, revealed in Jesus’ attitude, was quite different from the harsh face of the god revealed by the attitude of the doctors.
c) Further information
The five conflicts told by Mark (Mk 2:1-3,6)
* The content of the conflicts: The conflicts revolve around the fundamental themes of the religion of the time: forgiveness of sins, communion at the table with sinners, the practice of fasting, the observance of the Sabbath, the practice of medicine or caring for persons on the Sabbath.
* Jesus’ adversaries: The Scribes represented religious doctrine, catechesis. The Pharisees represented the laws and religious practice, especially those concerning the observance of the pure/impure. The disciples of John the Baptist represented other Messianic tendencies. The Herodians represented the government of Galilee. Herod Antipas had governed for over thirty years (4 BC to 39 AD). He was, so to say, the owner of Galilee.
* The causes of the conflict: The first conflict has to do with the relationship with God: forgiveness of sins. The second: with the relationship between persons: eating with sinners. The third with religious customs: observance of the fast. The fourth with the observance of God’s law: the Sabbath. It is others who provoke these four conflicts against Jesus. The fifth, provoked by Jesus himself, shows the seriousness of the conflict between himself and the religion of his time.
Sickness and sin
In those days, it was taught that each suffering was the result of a sin. When faced with the man born blind, Peter asked: “Who sinned, he or his parents that he should be born blind?” (Jn 9:1-3). Jesus answered: neither he nor his parents. Jesus distances sin from the sick person. He will not allow religion to be used to say to the paralytic: “You are a sinner!” Jesus says the opposite: “You are not a sinner! God welcomes you even though you are a paralytic. Your sickness is not the result of your sin!” To have the courage to say such things in front of the authorities present was revolutionary! A huge change. The people were enthusiastic about Jesus because he was setting them free. This is one side of the coin. But there is also another side. In the past as in the present, much suffering is the result of sin. For instance, the suffering of a mother who weeps over the murder of her child. Jesus has something to say about this too. Once, in Jerusalem, a tower fell and killed 18 persons (Lk 13:4). In another place, Pilate massacred a group of Galileans and mingled their blood with that of the sacrifices (Lk 13:1). Jesus asks: “Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No, but unless you repent you will all perish as they did” (Lk 13:2.4). Jesus transformed evils by appealing to conversion and change. But there was no repentance or change, and forty years later, in the year 70, Jerusalem was destroyed, many towers fell and much blood was spilt! Today too, many evils that we suffer are not a matter of destiny but are the consequence of sinful actions. Other evils are the result of culture. Others still are the result of a neo-liberal system that has been imposed on us and that oppresses us. Thus the evils we suffer are a call to conversion. An appeal to our responsibility. That which came into the world as a result of free actions to cause evil, can be driven out by free actions for good.
6. Psalm 32 (31)
Confession and faith free us from sin
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord
imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
When I declared not my sin,
my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to thee,
and I did not hide my iniquity; I said,
"I will confess my transgressions to the Lord";
then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let every one who is godly offer prayer to thee;
at a time of distress, in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
Thou art a hiding place for me,
thou preservest me from trouble;
thou dost encompass me with deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not keep with you.
Many are the pangs of the wicked;
but steadfast love surrounds him who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice,
O righteous, and shout for joy,
all you upright in heart!
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.