Veronica Lawson rsm
14 February 2012
Today’s gospel reading is the first in a series of five conflict stories. The series culminates in a plot to assassinate Jesus-so we are not talking about minor conflict! What could so antagonise the religious leaders of the time that they would engage in strategies to get rid of him? Nothing less than his goodness, honesty, and utter fearlessness, it would seem. Last Sunday we found the leper spreading the story of his cure, against Jesus’ explicit instructions.
The leper’s report curtailed Jesus’ plan to preach in the major towns. We find him back ‘at home’ in Capernaum, his headquarters in Galilee, and probably the home of Andrew and Simon. He has drawn such a large crowd that the four friends of the man with paralysis have to take drastic measures to get anywhere near the healer: they go through the roof.
This is such an interesting story. I think the reader is invited to identify with the various characters: with Jesus, the attentive and astonished crowd, with the four faith-filled friends, with the paralysed man who knows where to go for healing, and with the scribes. There is something of each of these characters or character groups in every one of us. We want to be compassionate as Jesus was. We want to listen to his message, as did the people of Capernaum. We want to be like the faith-filled friends who seek healing for the sick. We do not want to be like the scribes who just sit back and find fault. And yet, the focus of the story seems to be on the scribes and we are invited to consider whether our behaviour emulates theirs.
The scribes are the protectors of the law. They are outraged that Jesus would claim authority from God to declare that the man’s sins have been forgiven. From their perspective, he blasphemes. Their statement foreshadows the end of the Markan story where Jesus is condemned to death on a charge of blasphemy (14:64). It is possible that members of the Markan community had difficulty with the mediated power of God’s forgiveness. Jesus shares fully in the divine power to forgive. The power of forgiveness is also mediated through an imperfect community, a stumbling block for some early Christians, and a stumbling block for some contemporary Christians as well. The story warns us of the jaundiced critic within ourselves. It also invites us to consider again the power of the sacrament of reconciliation and its place in Christian life. It may be time to re-engage in a communal discussion about the most effective way of celebrating this sacrament.