Friday, February 17, 2012

Healing or Forgiveness?

Seventh Ordinary Sunday Year B

If you were presented with an option to choose between physical healing and forgiveness, which would you choose? Now, many of you are intelligent enough to suspect that this could be a trick question and we all know how we should handle trick question; give the answer which is least plausible. But, I guess actions speak louder than words. Witnessing the number of pilgrims that came for the Mass with Anointing for the Sick last Saturday and others who went for the Lourdes bathe is clear evidence that the former, physical healing, is preferred to the latter, forgiveness. The queues for the Sacrament of Penance, on the other hand, were contrastingly short.

A similar observation could be made between two most important approved Marian shrines in the world, that of Lourdes in France and the other of Fatima in Portugal. Pilgrims will testify that the pilgrims which converge on the French shrine far outnumber those who visit the Portuguese shrine of Fatima. What could be the difference between these two shrines or rather what is the pull factor in respect of the shrine of Lourdes which is missing from that of Fatima? One can only speculate that it has to do with the popular associations made by pilgrims. Lourdes is synonymous with healing whereas Fatima with penance. The former obviously seems to be more appealing than the latter.

The contrast and seeming rivalry between physical healing and forgiveness is played out in today’s gospel story. A paralysed man comes to Jesus obviously looking for healing but receives more than that, forgiveness of his sins and salvation. It is a story of faith. Interestingly, it is not the faith of the paralytic that draws Jesus to perform the miracle and to forgive his sins, but rather the faith of the four friends. But more important than the subjects of faith, being the friends of the paralysed man, is that of the object of faith – Jesus himself. Here, in terms of the object, we are asked to examine and reflect on both his person and his authority. What authority does he possess? Who is this man, Jesus?

Today’s gospel reading is certainly familiar to many of you. Jesus is teaching in a house that is so overcrowded that there is no room even at the door. The crowd is so large that it spills into the streets. We can picture the hot crowded atmosphere within the house with its guests and owners huddled together like tightly packed sardines, sitting on the floor, shoulder to shoulder. Imagine having to make way for another person, what more a man on a stretcher. I have often noticed the expressions of annoyance on the faces of people sitting together on a bench when they have to make room for another person.

The reason why the paralytic is lowered by his friends into the presence of Jesus is very clear. He’s there for the healing, not for the teachings and certainly not for forgiveness. The words that Jesus speaks to the paralytic are somewhat unexpected, “Your sins are forgiven.” The paralytic wishes to be physically healed, yet Jesus forgives him of his sins. It must have come as big disappointment to him, at least at the initial stage. This reminds me of what happened last week. I could see the disappointment on the faces of many pilgrims who had travelled to our parish last week hoping to get a full shower of Lourdes water but were instead given a few drops sufficient for wetting the face. The paralytic is certainly worthy of compassion, no dispute about that. Therefore the statement of Jesus, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ would obviously seem bizarre, even insensitive, to the crowd. For this, the scribes will accuse him of blasphemy because they believe that Jesus has made himself on par with God.

As is often the case in the gospel accounts, Jesus uses the irony of a situation to teach a lesson. What, exactly, is Jesus trying to prove by forgiving the sins of the paralytic, and then healing him? First, as the scribes state, only God forgive sins. By forgiving the sins of the paralysed man, Jesus tells us that he operates with the same authority as God himself. Jesus reveals his identity – he is more than a great healer or teacher, he is God. Secondly, as the story tells us, Jesus can heal the sick. By the healing the sick, St Mark tells us that Jesus offers proof of his messianic claim, and in doing so, he also shows us that the Kingdom of God is at hand (cf Mk 1:15). Third, Jesus is communicating to the crowd that the Kingdom of God is about the restoration of the relationship between man and God. What was not perfect is made whole; where there was sin there is no reconciliation; and what was alienated from the community is now restored.

But the last point of this story is that Jesus points to what is necessary for salvation – it is forgiveness of sins and not healing from physical infirmities or disability. Physical health, though important, is no substitute for salvation – eternal life. Christ deals first with the spiritual problem—the forgiveness of sins—and then the physical problem—the physical affliction. Most people want it the other way around, putting greater emphasis on healing the physical ailment than fixing the spiritual problem. Solomon gives us the answer to which is more important: "The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, but who can bear a broken spirit?" (Proverbs 18:14).

The mission of Jesus, the Son of God is to conquer suffering and the greatest suffering of all is not any form of disability, pain or ailment, but the loss of eternal life. Jesus came not only as miracle worker or a healer. He came to strike at the roots of suffering, sin and death. Sin is the cause of all our pains and sicknesses. The way to remove the effect, is to take away the cause. Pardon of sin strikes at the root of all diseases. Today, man recognises his physical frailty and searches for health and longevity. What he fails to recognise is that sin is the most insidious ailment that requires a remedy, and that eternal life, and not longevity, is man’s ultimate goal. Thus, the queues in line for healing and anointing are long whereas those that lead to the confessional are either short or non-existent. Most men think themselves spiritually whole; they feel no need of a physician of the soul, therefore neglect or even despise the forgiveness promised by Christ and offered by the Church in the Sacrament of Penance.

Many who labour under the burden of pain, disease and old age often feel abandoned by God. But our Pope in his recent message on the occasion of the World Day of the Sick reminds all of us of this truth, “God, indeed, in his Son, does not abandon us to our anguish and sufferings, but is close to us, helps us to bear them, and wishes to heal us in the depths of our hearts.” He does not provide us with a cure-all pill for our ailments, a fountain of youth that will stall the aging effects of time, nor a miraculous balm that will keep suffering at bay. But he does provide us the Eucharist, especially as Viaticum, which St Ignatius of Antioch describes as the “medicine of immortality, the antidote for death”; the sacrament of the passage from death to life, from this world to the Father, who awaits everyone in the celestial Jerusalem, where the lame will leap with joy, the blind gaze upon the beauty of his Maker and the deaf hear the wondrous voice of his Saviour bidding him to draw near

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.