The Gospel text of today is what is known as a Pronouncement story. This is one in which the pronouncement of Jesus is at the heart of the story. The pronouncement here is that Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.
Though it might not be as apparent at first glance, Jesus reaches to the core of the man’s illness when he tells him that his sins are forgiven. The pronouncement of forgiveness in this healing context by Jesus makes explicit the fundamental character of Jesus’ healing ministry. His healing, not limited to the symptomatic treatment of the illness, represents the wholeness of the new age.
In the first reading, Isaiah speaks of this newness, the second chance that is given by God to everyone who is willing to take it. God does not want to remember the events of the past, because he is even now doing something new. He is a God not of the past or yesterday but a God of the now; a God who constantly makes all things new. We have to open our eyes to see this newness which God himself brings. This newness is shown tangibly in his providing a way in the desert and when rivers flow in the wastelands. He does not remember our sins anymore.
This is what Jesus does for the paralytic. He makes him a new creation. It is interesting and even informative that here Jesus does not heal the man immediately, but only after the controversy with the scribes in which Jesus is accused of blasphemy because forgiveness of sins is the exclusive prerogative of God and no one else. Jesus uses the man’s physical healing as a “proof” that he has the ability to forgive sin. The healing is to add authenticity to Jesus’ claim. Thus it seems that the focus is not so much on the healing but on the forgiveness of sins. This is echoed by the Psalmist who cries to the Lord to heal and forgive sin.
Though the scriptures explicate on many occasions that there is no connection between sin and illness, many today attribute diseases, illness and misfortune to sin. Sometimes it is not the individual’s sins but the sins of his/her forefathers which they think are being brought on them. Nothing is further from the truth than this warped way of thinking. Most of our sicknesses today are psychosomatic and those which are not are often the result of an unhealthy life style or in the case of the poor, malnutrition. Our response to our own illnesses and to those of others has to be the response of Jesus.
Our own psychological paralyses are often connected with our lack of forgiveness and keeping feelings of bitterness, anger, rage and the like in our hearts and minds. One of the keys to wholeness and good health is forgiveness. We must forgive because it is good for our health. Forgiveness can work miracles. When we experience it from another, burdens are lifted from our shoulders, and life seems to hold new possibilities. We are assured that we are acceptable even though we are weak and we make mistakes. Forgiveness is a precious gift that must never be taken for granted. Then in turn, when we are in a position to forgive, forgiveness should not be withheld. Instead, it should be given generously, just as God in Jesus grants it to us.
It is most consoling to realize that we have been forgiven, first by God and then by others. But we experience something quite different when we are called on to forgive others. The challenge placed before us at such times is often measured by the hurt or anger that we have to bear. It is much easier to overlook the failings of little children than it is to forgive adults, who should know better. The more serious the offense suffered, the harder it is to be open to the offender. Jesus did not heal the paralytic man on the condition that he changes his life and begin a new way of living. He forgave first and without any precondition. It is this realization of having been forgiven that then prompts us to change our lives for the better. Hence, the words we use in forgiving may seem trite, but our acts of forgiveness are often marvelously transformative.
This is why Paul makes explicit in the second reading of today that God has indeed established us firmly in Christ by placing the Spirit in our hearts. It is this Spirit of forgiveness which gives us the grace to constantly open ourselves like Jesus did and keep saying “yes” to him and to his will.
The challenge then is to realize that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. Rather it is a sign of great inner strength and courage. Forgive; it is good for your health.