“Your Sins Are Forgiven You”
In this wonderful homily for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly helps us understand why Jesus told the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven you.”
Readings for Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14
- Second Reading: Second Corinthians 1:18-22
- Gospel: Mark 2:1-12
I like this Gospel, and I’ve been trying to figure out different ways to bring my very positive feelings to you as well.
As you know, the writer of this Gospel is St Mark and, as you also know, St Mark tends to be rather brief. His Gospel, if you sat down and read his whole Gospel, you could get up in an hour and ten minutes and you would have finished it.
It’s brief and that means that there are layers and layers of meaning and, because of that, it’s worth reading again and again and again. Because each time you read it, there’s a new feeling about it.
Now, it’s a very simple story: Jesus now has come back after the beginning of preaching his word throughout the area of Galilee and he has come up from the Jordan River.
And he’s beginning to get a bit of a reputation, so that we saw that when he arrived back in Capharnaum, which is the town at the very southern section of the Sea of Galilee, a small fishermen’s village, he was beginning to get to be well known.
He already had at least four or maybe six of his disciples, you’d call them. He was keeping close to St Peter, because he was living in St Peter’s house, and it is there we find him in the Gospel this morning.
He had been preaching a little bit, here and there, but the word got out that the holy man was in town, and, of course, they knew that he was going to be at the home of St Peter. And so what happened was they all gathered there to hear him.
So he’s in the house and you can imagine the house can’t be a beautiful palace or anything like that, because Peter is just a fisherman in a very poor country. But the house is filled with people.
One part of it, of course, the seats of honour go to the men who teach in the village, those who actually are in charge of the teaching on each Saturday, and so these men have a higher place in the village. They’re not Pharisees, they are the Scribes. Now they’re sitting there and they have seats of honour, but everybody kind of floods in and it gets very crowded.
Now, there were four gentlemen who had a mission, and their mission was their friend, a young boy, was very sick. So what they did was, they heard that Jesus was a healer, so they brought their friend on a pallet, and they carried him and they went around the house, this way and that, and they couldn’t get in because the door was locked. There was no way to get into the place and on the outside there were crowds of people.
But somehow, they began to think, and being very industrious young men, what they did was, the only thing open is the roof, can you imagine, the roof? So they climb up on top of the roof and they start taking the roof apart.
We’re so used to this story that we don’t realise if somebody came into your house and took the roof off it, it wouldn’t be the ordinary thing that is done to the occasion.
Anyhow, they’re tearing the roof down, making a big hole in it so that they can take ropes and lower their friend who’s laying on this pallet very sick, you see. And he’s just maybe a young child. We don’t know exactly how old, but he’s not an adult.
Anyhow, you can imagine, the first that comes down from the roof is bits of hay and whatever else they do to make roofs in that area.
And I can just see Jesus sitting there and, all of a sudden, plop! Here comes a little boy on a stretcher and four men looking down with big eyes, really frightened that, “You’ve got to do something, because we’re afraid that our friend is going to die.”
And I’m sure Jesus smiled.
So what did he do?
Well, Jesus looks at the little boy and he says to him…
Well, first of all, he looks at the men and he sees how anxious they are for him and how they want Jesus to do something. And they have faith in Jesus and he sees this faith. And he knew this faith that if you put into a stranger or a relative stranger is very rare and so it touches him.
And, the Gospel says, seeing the faith he has, the faith these four men have, the faith that he would cure this poor little boy, his heart is touched and what he does is, seeing their faith — not the little boy, he’s not asking for anything — seeing their faith, he turns to the little boy and he says, “Your sins are forgiven you.”
Now, that might mean something different to everybody, but the basic meaning that Jesus was giving it is: someone in sin is in need of healing.
We think of sin as a crime. Sins are not crimes. Sin is a word that you can only use in relationship. If you commit a crime, they put you in jail. If you commit a sin, you break a heart. Because sin is a relationship, a relationship that should be of love, but it’s cut off.
And so he looks at the little boy and he knows what sin does. He knows the turmoil in the little boy’s heart because he is filled with sin.
Now, I’ll give an example. When I was about nine or ten years old – no, I was younger, I was about, yeah, eight or nine – the age that some children, namely me, turn to stealing, do you know, kind of picking things up and putting them in your pocket and walking on.
And my father, every night, poor man that he was, would save a little money by not eating much, and buy chocolate bars, little chocolate bars for me, my two sisters and my mother. And he had brought the chocolate bars home and he put them in the fridge. I think it wasn’t a fridge yet, it was an ice box, because we lived out in Long Island at that time.
And, of course, I saw the candy and I figured, well, I’ll swipe one of the candy bars. And I did. And I took it and I really enjoyed it. It was a very nice candy bar. He used to give us a bar of candy every night before we went to bed.
And then, when he came home from work, he went to take the candy bars and give them as he did — after supper he’d give one to each of us and to my mother. It was his holy communion really (chuckles). It was his way of saying we can’t break bread together, we don’t have enough money for lots of other things, but candy bars are candy bars and they have a certain way of bringing everyone together.
But one was missing. And my father was very surprised and so he said in quite a loud voice, he said, “Who took the candy bar?”
And, of course, I walked in with my two sisters. And my sister Peggy, who was a saint, he said, “Peggy, did you take the candy bar?”
And, of course, Peggy being a saint and big sister and everything else, said, “No Dad, I didn’t take the candy bar.”
My little sister was only about four, and he said, “Ann, did you take the candy bar?”
And she said, “No, I didn’t, Dad.”
And then he turned to me, who was the obvious thief, and he said, “Denis, did you steal the candy bar?”
And I said, “Oh no, Dad, I didn’t take the candy bar.”
End of story?
No, everybody in the room knew I took the candy bar, and I felt terrible. I felt so terrible, I tell the story now fifty years later from when it happened, and I can remember it vividly.
Why? Why? Because I got caught stealing a candy bar?
No, I used to get caught stealing a lot of things, but it never bothered me, I never remembered them. But what bothered me was the goodness of my father, that I lied to him.
And then I knew that I wasn’t going to sleep for a long time, because the feeling was I’d betrayed him. I’d betrayed his trust and all these things. But I wouldn’t admit anything, and on the outside I was just my cheerful self.
And my father, saint that he is, never even mentioned it. He took my mother’s candy bar, broke it in half, and …
I was feeling a terrible guilt and I knew from that moment on what sin was. Sin wasn’t doing something outside or being naughty or anything like that. Sin was what sin means – you can only sin if you have a relationship. Everything else is a crime. If you steal something and they catch you, it’s a crime, it’s not a sin. A sin breaks a heart.
So whenever I read this story, I think not only just of this little boy. When Jesus says to him, instead of saying, “Be healed and jump up and make everybody happy,” he says to him, “My little child, all your sins are forgiven,” I know what he means.
He means that yes, you’ve done a terrible thing. Yes, something awful is happening to you and you’re full of turmoil and you’re full of anger and you’re laying there and some people say you’re going to die, and others no, and you’ve got four friends with great love in their heart, hovering, looking down through the window.
And, of course, then you have the Scribes — not the Pharisees, there were no Pharisees there, but the Scribes, local teachers of the law — and they were thinking in their hearts.
They were thinking, “You can’t say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ because that belongs to God. You can say, ‘I hope God forgives you. I hope this, I hope that.’ But you can never say to another person, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ so directly — not by ‘God will forgive you’, but taking them away on the spot and there.”
And Jesus, being such a wonderful kind person, he knew what was on their mind. And he should have been very angry: how dare they deny the fact that the Son of God has the right to forgive sins — and all the stuff that we would have thrown at them. And he looked at them and he said, “What is easier to say – your sins are forgiven you, or arise and walk?”
And, of course, by this time, the little fellow on the pallet was feeling the great kindness and love of Jesus, and so Jesus lifts him up.
You know that it is the same word as Jesus was lifted up on the cross and died for our sins, you see. And God lifted him up from the death and gave him new life.
So the word is carefully chosen by this wonderful writer, Mark. And he wanted us all to know that sin can kill, because it’s a betrayal, not of other people but of your own heart, which will lead you to a very dangerous place, which is the darkness and the feeling that nobody could possibly love you anymore. It is the end of love.
And Jesus comes in and he says, “Now it’s all forgiven.” So easy.
And so, he then looks at the little boy and does the thing everybody would like to look at, which is the miracle, right?
They don’t know about the little boy’s heart. They don’t care about the relationship. They want to know is Jesus going to heal him.
But the men who love him, that would be enough for them, because they loved him.
Anyhow, he looks at the little boy and he says, “Get up, and go home.”
I love that last statement. He always says that, “Go home,” Jesus does.
Why? Because home is where your true heart is and that’s where you’re going to finally get out of this messy group of people that are looking for miracles and very excited and they want to make Jesus a hero and all that.
But you, the little child knows, and Jesus knows, that he has reached out and touched him. And in touching him, the little boy knows he’s been touched by God.
And so he jumps up and he grabs the pallet and he runs home.
Why do you think he brought the pallet?
Jesus tells him to bring the pallet.
If you’re a child that age, what is the one thing when you go to Coney Island, where you go to some famous place or your father takes you to some other city or something exciting, you always look for a souvenir, right? Something to remember this time.
And so the boy with great delight takes the pallet home. And I’m sure for the rest of his life he puts it in the corner of his room.
And every time he looks at it he realises the great truth: Jesus has come to heal us; Jesus has come to show us the love of God, the mercy of God, the caring of God.
No demands, no terrible outrage, no jail term, just the loving forgiveness of God who is so vulnerable that He forgives even before we ask Him for the forgiveness that we need.
And that is kind of the heart of what little Mark, who suffered, remember, from the fact that he was rejected on the first trip by St Paul and he went home in shame, but now he’s writing the story that says that, well, he made that mistake, but he’s writing the story of the little boy because he feels just like the little boy stealing. Stealing is no fun.
I hope that you take, from now on anyhow, you take these stories very, very seriously, because they’re at the heart of what Jesus is saying to us.
No matter how bad it is, no matter how hard it gets, no matter what you have done, don’t worry about law, don’t worry about order, God’s love will never, never go away.
And all you have to do is open your heart and, even before the teardrops fall, He has forgiven you and returned you to what? He’s returned you to a new life and a new way of looking at things.
And the most important lesson that I took out of it was: give the forgiveness that God gives to me every day, and share it with those especially in need.