2/19/12, A New Thing


Isaiah 43:18-25, 2 Corinthians 1:18-22, Mark 2:1-12

In the few well-chosen lines of today’s OT reading, we hear God speaking through the prophetic voice of a human being.  God’s message is that the Hebrews should let go of their past and look to the promise of the future.  It sounds like both the people and God have been in a state of relational paralysis, each weary of the other.  To restore relationship and get on with a new way of being, God intends to forget all that has gone wrong and initiate a new start. God declares that he will forgive sins for his own sake and make a new way in the desert.

The gospel story shows us four people who are so determined to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus that they cut a hole in the ceiling and drop the man down right in front of Jesus.  Such faith is hard to ignore!  So Jesus responds to their faith, but not by speaking the expected words of healing to him. Jesus instead says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  What?  We can understand the questions rising in everyone’s minds with this answer.  The friends wonder what forgiveness has to do with healing.  The scribes wonder what business Jesus has proclaiming forgiveness of sins.

The point of the story, however, is not to describe another miraculous healing. The story invites us to examine the question of what sin is and how it affects us.  We have been taught to think of sin in terms of all the things we do that might offend God’s moral law.  Sin is a word that, in its original sense, means “missing the mark.”  What is the mark that humans miss?  Most simply expressed, the mark we miss is our failure to live in full, free, loving connection with other human beings and with Creation itself. We are held in the grip of a soul sickness that grows from self-centeredness, a distortion of the image of God in us.  It paralyzes our ability to love God and to love our neighbors and to love ourselves.  We call this dis-ease sin.  

When Jesus looks at the man who has been rendered immobile, paralyzed by whatever his dis-ease was, he sees a man unable to walk through life accomplishing the good for which he was created.  Perhaps this man’s condition was literally physical but perhaps it was also, metaphorically speaking, psychologically and spiritually crippling. Was it his sense of alienation from life’s goodness that paralyzed him?  Was he so completely unable to seek his own healing that his friends had to bring him into the presence of Jesus? We all know that it is possible for us to find ourselves immobilized in life by actions and events that have severed our relationships with others, with ourselves and with God.  These relationally disruptive actions and events, both what we have done or left undone, are what we call “sins.”  Sin is a disease that results from the failure to love properly.  The healing that we need is restoration of relationship for the sake of getting on with God’s purpose for our lives.

Sin cuts us off from life’s goodness.  Often it takes the prayerful assistance of others to get us into a place of receiving what we need.  What we need to get going again is an assurance of forgiveness, a restoration of relationship, a fresh start. This is what Jesus offered the paralyzed man.  This is also what God through Isaiah offered the nation of Israel: restoration of relationship and a fresh start so they could move forward in fulfilling God’s purpose for them.

When I was in my late teens, I got caught in an addictive web of anorexia and bulimia.  This addiction to perfection was generated by my desire for God’s love, a love I sought to find in the affirmation of significant male figures in my life.  For 15 years I lived this chameleon-like life. Although no one knew about my addiction but me, this dis-ease with life’s goodness, a rejection of myself as God had created me, crippled me relationally with myself, with others and of course, with God.

God’s own desire to restore my relationship with the Divine reached out to me in the form of a very holy man who one day responded to my confession of this “sin” with a simple prayer of forgiveness and healing.  Without many words, he simply held his compassionate hands over my head.  I felt literally a buzz of energy between his hands and my head and knew that a healing of my psychological and spiritual dis-ease was underway.  But it was what he said as he sent me on my way that has been most powerful in the 30 years since this experience. It echoes in me everyday.   He simply said, “Go walk in your healing.” 

God graciously acts to offer the healing gesture of forgiveness to us, a gesture that often comes through other human beings. But often the biggest challenge of forgiveness is to live the rest of our lives in the reality of that healing.  Jesus told the man to rise, pick up his mat and go home.  In other words, move… get on with life… go to where your human relationships are and practice a healthy life of love and service among them! 

That is what Jesus says to the man healed of his paralysis through the forgiveness of sins.  Both God in our Old Testament reading and Jesus in the Gospel declare that the forgiveness of sins, the forgetting of the past, the looking ahead to the new possibilities of the future is for the purpose of restoring our relationship with all that is good.  It is for the possibility of God bringing to fullness all that was intended in Creation that our dis-ease with life is done away with and we are welcomed to begin again.  But it is a matter of choosing over and over to walk in the healing that has been offered to us for God’s own sake.

As Lent begins this week, we are invited to consider anew our lives and our relationship with God. What is old and needs to be abandoned? Where do we harbor dis-ease that needs to be healed?  What is the new relationship challenge into which God invites us…for God’s sake? 

By Sandi DeMaster