Gospel for Today

Dated Feb. 19


“See, I am doing something new!”  So proclaims the Lord in our first reading today from Isaiah (Is. 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25).  This quote from Isaiah calls to mind St. John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth, described in Revelation.  “The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new'” (Rev. 21:5).  The one on the throne is, of course, Jesus Christ.  I always liked the fact that Mel Gibson put those words into Christ’s mouth on the road to His Crucifixion inThe Passion of the Christ.  

So what is this new thing which God is doing through Jesus Christ, His Son?  The Gospel readings these past few weeks have all spoken of healing.  We have commented in each case how even though these passages describe Jesus’s miraculous healings of the body, what they truly point to is Christ’s mission to heal our souls.  Today’s Gospel reading makes that explicit (Mk. 2:1-12).
Jesus and the disciples are in Capernaum; there a large crowd gathers around them such that when a group of men attempt to bring their paralytic friend to Christ for healing, they are forced to lower him down through the roof.   When Jesus sees the paralytic He surprises the gathered crowd by saying to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”  
You cannot imagine how scandalous this was for Christ to say!  The scribes immediately began to grumble among themselves.  “Who but God can forgive sins?”  Jesus, in response, healed the paralytic man so that he could walk again.  He performed this healing, He said, “that you might know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.”  The crowd was astounded, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”  
Christ has done something new.
The scribes in today’s Gospel reading were both right and wrong.  They were absolutely correct that only God has the authority to forgive sins.  Their error was that they did not understand Jesus to be God.  As the Son of God, He shares in the Father’s authority.  As the version of this story recorded in Matthew puts it, “God… had given such authority to human beings” (Mt. 9:8).  The matter of who has authority to forgive sins is an essential one.  The mission of the Church, after all, is a mission of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).  Becoming reconciled with God means being forgiven of our sins.
If God has the authority to forgive sins, and Jesus shares in that authority, what does He do with it?  Where do we go to seek such forgiveness?  Allow me to lead you on a little journey through the Scriptures… 
Before the Ascension, John records this encounter the Apostles had with the Risen Lord.  “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'” (Jn. 20:21-21).
Here we see Christ passing this authority to forgive on to men, specifically the Apostles, the leaders of the Church.  And if you think about this logically, if the Apostles are to have the authority to forgive or to retain the sins of others, how are they to know of these sins?  It follows that repentant disciples of Christ  would be confessing their sins to the Apostles, seeking Christ’s forgiveness.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul talks about “the ministry of reconciliation.”  He says that Christ “entrusted the message of reconciliation to us” [the Apostles], and that “we are ambassadors of Christ, since God is making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
Today we use the term in persona Christi when discussing the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession).  We believe that when we hear the words of absolution in the Confessional, that it is not the priest who forgives us, but Christ Himself, speaking through the words of His ordained minister.  And so the Church continues today the ministry of reconciliation begun by Christ 2000 years ago.
God wants us to be healed.  He wants to forgive our sins.  The only condition is that we must ask for forgiveness.  God is love, after all; while He wants desperately for us to be reconciled to Himself, He will never force Himself upon us.  He lets us come to Him on our own.  But He desperately longs for us to be forgiven.
“You burdened me with your sins,” He says through His prophet, “and wearied me with your crimes.  It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more” (Is. 43:24-25).
This is truly, wonderfully, something new.