Ordinary Time, Week 7

O Lord, I trust in Your merciful love. My heart will rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord Who has been bountiful with me. (Psalm 13:6).

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, always pondering spiritual things,
we may carry out in both word and deed
that which is pleasing to you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.. (Psalm 41:5).

“Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven (ἀφίενταί),’ or to say, ‘Rise (ἔγειρε), pick up your mat and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” – he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go (ὕπαγε) home.” He rose (ἔγειρε), picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this (Mark 2:6-12).”

What does it mean to forgive? Initially, one may wonder the point of the question. After all, everyone knows what it means to forgive, correct? When we tackle some of these essential experiences of Christianity in the classroom, I normally begin by asking – in this case – ‘has anyone not heard the term forgiveness?’ Normally, if a hand goes up, it is normally 1 or 2. The vast majority has heard the term. So I ask then, ‘what does the term mean?’ The students often are puzzled and the silence is broken by a comment, ‘I never really thought much about the meaning of forgiveness.’ Those who proffer a response general equate forgiveness with either forgetting or pretending that the hurt never occurred and somehow life moves on. At that point it is time to turn to the Sacred Text for instruction and formation in the ways of forgiveness.

The Greek verb “to forgive (ἀφίημι aphíēmi)” is a word synonymous with motion often conveyed as an imperative, urgent motion. Scholars note various English translations such as “to send away,” “to send forth,” “to go” or “to hurl along” noting a common underlying action of releasing that which (or who) was bound. This suggests, implicitly, that when the word of forgiveness is pronounced, it is hurled into a condition that has diminished or ceased moving. This line of understanding is supported by the Gospel episode of this pre-Lenten Sunday who presents a man incapable of self-locomotion. Whatever has paralyzed him also has arrested his ability to move, to mention only 1 dilemma in his life. A mat supports his motionless body. Friends are his only means of travel; an image interestingly used by the Fathers of the Church as a metaphor for the Body of Christ, the Church.

ἀφίημι (aphíēmi)’s varied translation into English with an underlying sense of “to release,” suggests another facet in the discussion of motion that has halted. “To release” suggests an inability to move despite an intention or desire to do so. No doubt, the paralytic who was brought to Jesus long desired the use of his legs to walk. Yet as with so many things in life, desire is not effective. Desire, while important and certainly helpful in dealing with various maladies in life, does not cause – in and of itself – the intended action. Something else has to be done for motion to occur. This reminds me of a colleague who worked on an aircraft carrier. He told me once how he watched the jet fighters taking-off from the flight deck. The aircraft was positioned. The nose wheel was engaged to the catapult. The engines were ignited and even though they generated mind-boggling amounts of thrust in an instant, the jet did not move. Only when the catapult was fired was the jet released to be hurled forth from the deck. On its own, the fighter jet was incapable of generating enough speed to fly off the deck. Something external had to intervene for the jet to move (to fly) as it was intended.

Sin (Hebrew: hatta, “to miss the mark”) whether we are conscious of it or not causes movement in life to slow down, and at times, to stop. For the Christian, life as motion is not activity that is haphazard, self-directed or chaotic. In his Letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul saw Christian living as a continuous straining forward made possible by the attractive call and love of Jesus Christ. Sin erects barriers to that attracting love that gradually slows-down or even halts any travel to the One Who is Love. The danger of this is the fact that in the created world, if we are not moving or growing towards Someone the laws of entropy – even spiritual entropy – take over. Movement towards Love when halted becomes chaos. Within chaos there is no power for cosmos or order. All that one can do is be receptive to the pronouncement of a Creative Word: “I forgive you.” Such loving power releases one from what would otherwise be a death-spiral and enables one to be sent forth on the path of love to the One Who is Love.

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