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FEBRUARY 19, 2012: SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
II Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12

Today's gospel passage presents us with the first of five consecutive conflict stories: narratives in which Jesus or his disciples say or do something. The "good folk" immediately object. Then Jesus says or does something to resolve the conflict.

In this particular pericope, Jesus creates a conflict by assuring the paralytic, "... Your sins are forgiven." The scribes quickly demand to know, "Why does this man speak this way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?"

Jesus then follows the three-fold pattern of all gospel conflict stories and resolves the issue by telling the young man, "Rise, pick up your mat and go home." The now cured person immediately does so.

Scholars tell us that Mark seems to have chosen these particular five conflicts because these are the issues his readers should expect to encounter if they're really committed to carrying on the ministry of Jesus.

As we hear in our II Corinthians passage, Paul believes such a commitment is at the heart of his own ministry. If Jesus' response to God's call was always, "Yes!" so Paul's response to the needs of his community is always, "Yes!" There's no difference between his ministry and that of the risen Jesus. "The one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment." The Apostle isn't referring to priests and bishops here; he's talking about all Christians.

That's why our Christian sacred authors presume forgiveness must also be at the heart of our ministry. It was (and is) at the heart of Jesus' ministry. And it creates similar conflicts for us. Many people simply feel more comfortable not forgiving than they do forgiving. We'd prefer restricting those who have hurt us to the past pains they caused, never erasing the memory of their actions.

This is where Deutero-Isaiah comes in. In one of his best-known oracles, the prophet gives us an image of a God who is always working in the present. "Thus says Yahweh: 'Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"'

At some point in his prophetic ministry, Deutero-Isaiah realized that the exiled Jews to whom he was speaking really weren't listening to him. When he mentioned Yahweh his people thought of a God who saved Israel 700 years before in the Exodus, not the God who was saving them right then and there during their Babylonian exile. Had they been captives in Egypt and a person named Moses came in from the desert one day speaking about liberation, they certainly would have presumed Yahweh was working in their lives. But it wasn't 1,200 BCE; it was 735 BCE. And they weren't slaves in Egypt; they were prisoners of war in Babylon. In their mind, Yahweh had already "done his thing." The captives only thought about past glories, not present. Had Deutero-Isaiah known about the key line in Rick Nelson's Garden Party, I'm certain he would have included it in this oracle. "If memories are all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck."

In many ways, Yahweh's getting rid of the past is a two way street. If we forget about God's past, God will forget about ours. "It is I who wipe out, for my sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more."

The historical Jesus obviously had a forgiving image of Yahweh in the back of his mind as he went village to village, synagogue to synagogue proclaiming God's kingdom. He wanted his followers to live their lives in the present, not the past. That meant they had to constantly forgive; and to endure the constant conflict such forgiveness creates.