Frances writes on this weekend’s readings :- St Paul, writing to the Christians of Corinth, (2 Cor 1:18-22) writes in a deeply personal vein of his experience of Christ. Christ is he says, God’s great ‘Yes’ to humanity. There is never, never, any ‘No’ in his approach to us. St Paul, the former persecutor of the Christians, along with the enthusiastically sinful Corinthians, had good cause to see things in this way. They, as we learned from the first letter, were noted for their visits to brothels; their condoning incest; their frequent resort to the law courts in cases against fellow Christians; their aggressive sectarianism – ‘I’m for Peter, or Apollos or Christ’ and their profaning of the Eucharist. Now in this second letter we hear how, having made extravagant promises of aid to the Church in Palestine, they then have to be strong-armed by Paul to pay up the cash. It seems that if there were sins to commit, ways of denying Christ, the Corinthians would find them. Yet Paul writes of his love and concern for them in spite of their unworthiness. Through his knowledge of God in Christ he knows that God never gives up on us. Once given in becoming incarnate, Christ’s alignment with sinful humanity for its redemption is absolute.
We see this ‘Yes’ of God in a very practical demonstration of the new life of the Kingdom of God in our gospel (Mark 2:1-12). God’s ‘Yes’ for human beings is first shown in the love and faith of the four friends of the paralysed man, who bring him to Christ. Arriving at the busy scene they find the way blocked by the crush of people. Now they might well have given up at that point and just thought that was it; but no; dramatically insistent on the completion of their project, they break through part of the roof of the house in order to lower the sick man down into the presence of Jesus; who immediately responds with those powerful words which break through thousands of years of despair and fatalism which assumed illness was a punishment from God. Your sins are forgiven. Jesus, unlike the scribes whose condemnatory thoughts he knows, will have none of it. God is always about creativity and thriving, and in him is no evil and, as a demonstration of the grace of God in himself, Jesus instructs the paralysed man to get up and walk, a literally walking example of God’s power in himself. Jesus deliberately uses the word ‘authority’, insisting that he and he alone bears God the Father’s authority to heal; in contradiction to those scribes who thought they knew God’s will, centred on the temple and its high Priests.
This was in fact a message well known to Judaism as we see in our passage from Isaiah (43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25). It was written to the exiles in Babylon to remind them of God’s steadfast love and care even in the midst of difficulties, and their belief that they had been punished and abandoned by God.
We too need to be reminded of the love and faithfulness of God in our lives. Quite often, in the midst of difficulties, like Israel in Babylon or other situations, we fall into despair and fatalism, or we feel we need to ‘be good’ for God to be nice to us; totally failing to recognise his continual care for us and recognising his grace at every moment in our lives. There is something about Catholics which can easily turn to gloom, as we see in the sacrament of confession, which is not actually about guilt and sadness, but a sacrament celebrating our continual and developing relationship with God – as one does with a friend or lover and as shown in the pushiness of the friends of the paralytic. We must always be a people who relate and ask continually of God – for he is our creator and sustainer, and delights in nothing so much as responding to us. God is not there just for the ‘respectable’ bits of our lives, when we feel we can give him a slot, but he is the God of Gethsemane and the cross and will never desert us. LikeIsrael, like so many people Jesus met and responded to, we must be ready to throw ourselves on his grace, recognising that we have nowhere else to go and that unbelievably, he will and does respond.