February 19 2012 7th Sunday of the Year (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25). A divine promise of a new creation, to blot out sin. This day’s liturgical reading consists of three brief texts (two verses each) from a lengthy chapter in the book of Isaiah. It is important to grasp the message being made by these readings, intended to go with today’s Gospel text, which Jesus fulfils in his own way. The passages stress that God’s people can forget (or at least not recall) the past. This past will be of no significance in the light of what God, the God who loves them, is about to do. The people so redeemed by God will sing his praises. The second point being made is that the past, nonetheless, cannot be totally forgotten. There have been sins and failings, and part of the promised future will be divine forgiveness of sin. It will be for God to blot out these, and all sins, and remember them no more.

            In their original setting in the book of Isaiah, chapter 43, the words would have been addressed to a dispirited people in exile in Babylon some short time before 540 BC. Humanly speaking they had little basis for any hope for a meaningful future. God, through his prophet, reminds them that what matters is not human calculations, but the almighty power and love of their God, the only God, who created them. He reminds them again and again not to fear, for he has redeemed them, is with them.


Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 40). Heal my soul for I have sinned against you.

Second Reading (2 Corinthians 1:18-22). Jesus is the clear fulfilment of God’s promises. Faith gives believers certainty of this. Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, steeped in the liturgy and the languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) of his people. He knew that in Jewish liturgy prayers ended by the solemn expression Amen, Amen, a practice carried over to the early church. He knew the implications of this Hebrew word. The verb amen in its various forms meant “to be trustworthy, faithful, reliable”. It could also mean “truly, so be it, yes”, “faithfulness”. Paul may have recalled the vision of Isaiah 65:16-25 when at the glorious creation of a new heaven and a new earth those who bless and swear will do so “by the God of Amen”, of faithfulness, of truth (Isa 65:16). Paul, from his vision of the risen Saviour, knew that all God’s promises were fulfilled in Christ. The background to the present reading is a cooling of relationships that had taken place between the Corinthian church and Paul. While the details of the background escape us, it appears that he Corinthian church had accused him of vacillating, saying one thing (promising an immediate visit) and doing another, saying “Yes” and “No”. This leads Paul to affirm the certainty of the fulfilment of the promises in Christ; he is God’s “Yes” (Amen) to all the promises. Faith, a gift of the Holy Spirit, gives certainty, assurance of this. Sealing with the Holy Spirit in baptism is a pledge, a guarantee, to believers that God will also bring fulfilment to them. What a wealth of meaning in that often used response Amen!


Gospel (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sin. This reading is a narrative of healing, into which is inserted an episode on Jesus’ authority and his power to forgive sin. The setting of the narrative is clear enough. The small Palestinian house had a flat (mud) roof, through which the sick man could be lowered. Jesus praises the faith of the stretcher bearers, not directly that of the sick man. Mark notes that Jesus does not work miracles except where there is faith. Without a faith atmosphere miracles would be meaningless. Illness was commonly connected with sin. The high point of this narrative is Jesus’ forgiving the man’s sin, forgiveness of sin being the prerogative of God alone. When challenged on the point Jesus asserts this divine power. It is not clear why Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man”, a designation common in John’s Gospel. The Aramaic form might mean “human being”, an ordinary mortal, but if so here it applies to Jesus alone. Or Jesus may have the figure (of himself as) the Son of Man coming in Judgment (see Mark 15:62), but already exercising is power of pardon on earth. In any event after his resurrection the risen Jesus will give the Holy Spirit to his apostles and the Church, and confer on them, and the Church, the power to forgive sins: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven” (John 20:23).





B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day (+/- 650-700 words)


Certainty of Faith. Confession of sins. There are at least two points in today’s readings that present an opportunity for dialogue with women and men of our own day, with believers in doubt between faith and unbelief. We hear some say in matters if faith that they are just holding on by the nails, or finger tips. Many are in doubt with regard to matters of faith. We know from the New Testament itself that faith in Jesus, in the mystery that is Jesus and his church, did not always come easy. When Jesus spoke of his presence in the Eucharist, many of his followers found his teaching hard to accept and left him (John 6). Later in the early Church the doctrine of the Incarnation, that the eternal Word of God had become flesh, t hat the divine had come in such close contact with matter, proved too difficult, and led many to abandon the fold for what they believed an easier form religion. It was an acute problem for the Christian community to which the First letter of John (1 John) was addressed. John’s answer was that the doubts could be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit, by Jesus dwelling within believers. The early Church was very much aware of the dangers to Christian faith and living. Believers had to be keen not to give scandal and to help wavering fellow Christians. Jesus warns against putting a stumbling block before one of the little ones who believe in him (Mark 9:42). The little ones are not children (there was no infant baptism then, or infant believers in Christ). but believers of weak faith. The apostle Paul was equally conscious of the problem. He refers more than once to the “strong” and the “weak” in his communities, the weak being those easily led astray. Paul is well aware that God understands the situation of the weak, the wavering, “It is before their own Lord they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand” (Romans 14:4). Sometimes we hear people speak of resigning from the Church, occasionally even there are campaigns to do so. The Church is not a political party; ceasing to be a member, to believe, is a matter between the individual and God.


Conefssion of Sin. Preparation for Lent. Ash Wednesday comes soon. The theme of Ash Wednesday’s liturgy, and of Lent, is: “Repent and believe in the Gospel”, have a change of mind and concentrate on the saving message of the Gospel. Not long ago in Ireland confession was very frequent; now it is hardly heard of. The history of sacramental confession in the Church has had its ups and down. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1212 addressed the problem, and sacramental confession became more frequent. Both the first reading today and the Gospel reminds us that sin cannot be forgotten. Forgiveness of sin is a great gift of God for us mortals. At the consecration in the Mass we are reminded of Jesus’ words; He died so that sins might be forgiven. As the Letter of John reminds us: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us” (1 John 1:8-9). Going to confession need not be for the forgiveness of serious sins. The very act is a profession of our faith in our belief in Christ’s saving death on the Cross. We live in a time of great challenges to our faith and Christian way of life. Faith is nourished by prayer and devotion. We could do worse that bring back some of our earlier Christian devotions, presented in a manner suitable to our new mentality.




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