FINDING PEACE THROUGH FAITH AND FORGIVENESS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HEB 4:1-5, 11; PSALM 78:3-4, 6-8; MARK 2:1-12 ]
Just like the Israelites during the time of Moses, we are all looking for a place of rest. For them, they were seeking physical rest because they had been wondering in the desert for forty years, living in uncertainty over their food and defending themselves from the attacks of their enemies. Our desire for rest is more than physical rest. It is the desire for peace, love, joy and unity within our hearts and with our fellowmen, and most of all, with God. Indeed, like the man in the gospel who was paralyzed by his lack of faith in God and his sins, we too are paralyzed by our past and the fear of the future.
If we have no peace, it is because of the lack of faith in God, which leads us to sin. This is what Hebrews wants us to learn from the Israelites. The author says, “Be careful: the promise of reaching the place of rest God had for the Israelites still holds good, and none of you must think that he has come too late for it. We received the Good News exactly as they did; but hearing the message did them no good because they did not share the faith of those who listened.” It was because they lacked faith in God’s promise and divine providence that they began to take things into their own hands, disobeyed His will and chose their own path to happiness. Because of disobedience due to the lack of faith in God, we too refuse to listen to God and His Word. In choosing our own foolish ways, we fall into sin. Hence, the author urges the Christians and us as well, “We must therefore do everything we can to reach this place of rest, or some of you might copy this example of disobedience and be lost.”
The paralyzed man in the gospel was suffering from the effects of disobedience and sin. He could not forgive his past mistakes. Hence, he could not move forward in life. He was wallowing in his past. The stretcher that he laid on was his security. Besides indulging in self-pity, as many of us do when we are suffering because of our mistakes and folly, he was seeking pity. Because of his past failures, he lacked the confidence to face the future. This is true for us too. Imprisoned by our past and our shame, we have lost our self-esteem and pride. That is why criminals and ex-offenders are fearful of returning to society to start a new life again because they are ashamed of their past and afraid that their past might be revealed.
Jesus, being the Son of Man and the Son of God, understands the struggles of humanity more than any one of us do. He knows what it means to be tempted and to live a life of faith. He too was tempted by Satan in the desert and in fact throughout His ministry, especially at the Garden of Gethsemane. That is why the author also affirms that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15f)
As the Compassionate High Priest, Jesus turned to the paralyzed man, aware of his deepest needs said to him with tenderness and love, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” How beautiful the words of Jesus!. Those were sweet words of assurance and reminder to him that he was a child of God even though he thought that God no longer treated him as His child. He thought that his physical illness was God’s punishment and rejection of him for his grievous sins. However, the Lord assured him that God had forgiven his sins and that he was truly the child of God. We can imagine the joy, the peace in his heart, for he has been set free from his past. He could now find the strength to start his life all over again because his past no longer had a crippling effect on him. He was ready to take up his stretcher and walk straight with the dignity of his state as a child of God.
Indeed, his sins were truly forgiven. If anyone has doubts as to whether Christ can forgive our sins or not, as the scribes did, “How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins by God?” Jesus says, “Why do you have these thoughts in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘You sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk’? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, – he said to the paralytic – ‘I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.'” The fact that his sins were forgiven was proven by the fact that he was healed of his paralysis. Since the Jews believed that physical ailment was the effect of sins, the healing is likewise a confirmation that his sins were truly forgiven.
Indeed, the sign of forgiveness is not just physical healing but when we are free to be God’s children again. When we experience freedom in loving, in serving and in living out the dignity as the children of God, we know that we are redeemed. When we no longer are ashamed of our past but can give thanks to God for all that we went through, our sins and our mistakes; and seeing them as grace at work in our moments of disgrace, then we know we are healed and forgiven. If we think we are forgiven but lack the courage to speak about our past, or when we think of the past and we are still grieving and not celebrating, it means that we have not experienced real forgiveness from the Lord simply because we cannot forgive ourselves or do not truly claim His forgiveness for us.
In our brokenness and in our pain, we too must come to Jesus first for spiritual healing. Often people seek only physical healing when the cause of their physical suffering springs from emotional, psychological and spiritual pain. Before any effective physical or even emotional and psychological healing can take place, we need to be healed spiritually through the forgiveness of our sins. It is the past unpleasant and wounded memories that make us prisoners of ourselves and others. We should turn to Jesus for forgiveness before we can begin the process of healing ourselves physically and emotionally. Until we acknowledge our sins and ask for forgiveness, we cannot let go of our shame, of our mistakes and those who have hurt us.
The Church has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Healing. In this sacrament, the priest acts like the four men in today’s gospel who brought the paralyzed man to see the Lord. The priest as a mediator of God’s mercy and forgiveness has the task of inspiring faith in the sinner who has lost confidence in himself, in others and even in God. Just as the Lord healed the paralyzed man on account of the faith of his four friends, the Lord today heals sinners and penitents through the assuring words of healing and forgiveness spoken by the confessor. We should make full use of this Sacrament for our spiritual healing so that God can work effectively in healing us of our physical and emotional suffering. If not, our lack of forgiveness, whether of ourselves or of others, will hinder the grace of God from touching our hearts and minds.
Not only the priest, but all of us can act as intermediaries in offering healing and forgiveness to one another. Like the four men in the gospel, we must find all ways to bridge the gap between the sinner and God. Like them, we must be creative in reaching out to sinners, lapsed Catholics and those who have left the Church because they were wounded by their own sins and the sins of others. We must never give up on sinners, just as the four friends of the paralyzed man did not give up on him. When they saw the crowd gathering round Jesus, they could have given up because it would have been very difficult to carry the paralyzed man to the Lord. But because they had compassion for their friend and faith in the Lord, they were resourceful. “They stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay.” How much initiative and zeal do we have in seeking to reach out to sinners and lapsed Catholics? Do we give up easily when they do not respond to our invitation? Let us restore creation back to its original plan. This is what Hebrews meant when he wrote that God’s work was completed on the Sabbath, the day of rest. We too must do everything so that we all “can to reach this place of rest.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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