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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
Thus says the LORD: Remember not the events of the past, the things
of long ago consider not;
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Brothers and sisters: As God is faithful, our word to you is not
"yes" and "no." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to
you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not "yes" and "no," but "yes"
has been in him. For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is
in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.
But the one who gives us security with you in Christ
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known
that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer
room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
listen deeply to God's Word today, perhaps we'll go home astonished and,
I think, very challenged.
Isaiah starts off telling us, speaking for God, "Look, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not see?" Then he goes on to describe some of the new things God is doing and perhaps, if we hear these again, we will begin to be astonished. But my guess is that we will probably be astonished at the wrong part, because when Isaiah says:
"God is doing a new thing. God is making rivers flow in the desert. God is giving people water to drink in the wastelands."
These are new things and they are astonishing. But the really new thing and astonishing thing is what God does, as Isaiah describes at the end of that passage. "It is I. I am the one who blots out your offenses. I forgive your sins."
Isaiah is announcing is that God takes the initiative to forgive. And that really is a new thing, especially for people who are brought up in the tradition of this Bible, the Jewish tradition. You had to earn your forgiveness. That is what the whole Book of Job is about.
Remember the argument that Job’s friends had with him? "You're a sinner and until you are ready to confess that and beg forgiveness and do penance and be punished, you can't be forgiven. You'll never be healed."
Isaiah is saying, "No, it's not that way at all. God takes the initiative." It even goes beyond what Isaiah said earlier in that book. If you look back in the 30th Chapter of Isaiah, there is a beautiful passage that I always like to reflect on about God. Isaiah says, "God is always waiting to be gracious to us."
Still, that suggests that we must take the imitative to turn to God. Now Isaiah is saying, “No! God takes the initiative, reaches out and forgives us,” realizing that God knows us, of course, that punishment won't change us. But loving us will change us. We can be loved into goodness. We can never be punished into goodness. And that is what God is revealing through the words of Isaiah today.
And, of course, in the Gospel, Jesus is revealing the same thing. He takes the initiative. This man comes before him paralyzed but, evidently, even more seriously sick in spirit. And Jesus takes the initiative and says, "My son, your sins are forgiven."
And look how those who were monitoring Jesus--because that's what they were doing--were beginning to be suspicious of him. He was beginning to proclaim this reign of God, something so different from what they had heard before. The religious leaders were afraid of what he was doing and so they challenged him, "How can you forgive sins? Only God can do that!"
And, also, they were concerned because Jesus was usurping the role of the temple. You couldn't have your sins forgiven unless you changed and went through rituals and offered sacrifices--paid, in a sense, for your sins—and only then would they be forgiven. Now suddenly Jesus is saying, "Your sins are forgiven. God loves you. God heals you." And then, to show that the healing has taken place in the spirit, Jesus heals the man's body.
It is a marvelous teaching and I think, for some of us, it is a new teaching also, or at least one that we have to keep reminding ourselves of. Because we, I think, often get into that pattern of thinking that somehow we have to earn God's love, somehow I have to pay a penalty for my sins. I must do penance. I must be punished. And only then can I be forgiven.
What God is telling us today is: "No. It doesn't work like that! God loves you and draws you forth into goodness." It is a new thing and it is a marvelous thing. And perhaps, as we think about it deeply, we will begin to be astonished and also begin to experience how much God loves me and how God reaches out to forgive me, draws goodness out of me, draws me into goodness and full humanness by loving me.
And now comes the challenge, because this is what God expects us to do also.
In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, one of the things that Jesus said was, "You have heard it was said of old, thou shall not kill, but I say to you, ‘Do not even have anger, hatred, resentment in your heart against your brother or sister.’”
Then, to show how important it is that you be reconciled and that you reach out to do the reconciling, Jesus says, “Look! Even if you are bringing your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. Go first and be reconciled.”
There is nothing more important for Jesus than for us to know God loves us and forgives us, but God also wants us to reach out in reconciliation, forgiveness and love to our brothers and sisters. In fact, on Easter Sunday night, when Jesus appears to the disciples, what is the first thing he tells them? He says, "Peace be with you!” And he says, “As I have forgiven you, you must forgive one another. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”
Jesus is telling his community of disciples that their first and most important work is that of reconciling, of bringing reconciliation, forgiveness and love into their community and beyond their community into the world.
God takes the initiative and forgives us and loves us. But God also wants us to take the initiative, to reach out and forgive. If anyone has anything that could be a barrier between me and that person, I must be the one to reach out and to reconcile and to forgive.
As so this is a challenge for us in our everyday life, within our family, within the workplace, in school - wherever we are. It is a challenge for us always to be the reconciling, the forgiving, the loving person--to draw goodness out of people by loving them, not punishing them. But it goes beyond that, too.
I remind you, because I know that I have spoken about this before, of Pope John Paul's Peace Day Statement for January 1 of 2002. It was a statement shortly after September 11th and John Paul was grappling with it and he says something like, "It almost seems that the horrific evil in the world is triumphing over goodness.”
And he recalls from his own youth how he lived through Nazi tyranny and then four and a half decades of totalitarian communist tyranny--evil, seeming to triumph. He says that out of that he learned, though, evil doesn't triumph - that God's goodness continues to be at work in the world.
Even in the face of the horrific violence of September 11th, he's telling us, in his judgment, it won't be overcome by returning violence with violence. “No,” he says, “if you want peace, it must be built on two pillars: the pillar of justice and the pillar of that special kind of love we call forgiveness.”
That's the only way--to have people within our family, within our community, in our nation and in our world. To build it on those two pillars - justice and that special kind of love we call forgiveness.
As I mentioned before, St. Paul was challenged for being fickle, saying “yes” sometimes, “no” sometimes. But he said, "No! I am not like that." I try to be like Jesus who says “yes” to God at every moment.
So perhaps what we need to do this morning is imitate Paul who imitates Jesus and say “yes” to God. Say “yes” to the new things God is doing in our midst; “yes” to this call to be forgiving, loving, reconciling people and to make that a firm and constant “yes”--no bending back and forth—“yes” to God and “yes” to God's new ways.
If we do that perhaps we will be astonished at not only what God does, but at what we do. We will be different. We will also be astonished, I think, at how reaching out in forgiveness and love will bring peace into our relationships, into our lives, into our hearts and ultimately, into our world.
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
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