2nd Sunday of Lent

March 16, 2014

Deal or No Deal

There is a game on television called :Deal or No Deal.” In it, ”a contestant is faced with a series of choices involving 26 briefcases filled with differing amounts of money, with decoys & distractions hindering the contestant's pursuit of the coveted hidden cash prize in one of them. The contestant then has the opportunity to take an offer from the show's banker, or refuse the deal and go for the amount he or she believes is in their chosen briefcase. As the cases are whittled down, the potential to win big or lose big looms in every decision”

The gospel reading today tells the story of a paralysed man being brought to the Lord by his friends Usually we focus on one aspect of this story. The Lord tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven, and people are scandalized. "Why does this man speak thus? It is a blasphemy." And indeed forgiving sins is God's prerogative, so their shock and dismay are understandable. The point is that Jesus is God, we conclude.

But let us consider another aspect: the man's friends bring him with the hope of healing his paralysis, and instead the Lord says, "Your sins are forgiven." Only later does He heal the paralysis. What if He had offered the proposition in terms of Deal or No Deal? "I give you forgiveness, but you can trade it for something else." What would you do, if you were in his place? Is it safe to say that most of us would say, I do not want forgiveness; what I really want is to be able to walk?

Thankfully, God wants us to be both physically and spiritually sound. The Lord healed both souls and bodies. I asked the question because experience leads me to believe that people give far more time and effort to physical well being than they do to inner or spiritual well being.

For example, they applaud the work of missionaries in establishing schools and hospitals and feeding programs, but are less interested in teaching the Gospel. And as I have just mentioned, who among us would not prefer the healing of paralysis or blindness over that of receiving forgiveness?

Christianity is not alone in its quest for inner healing. Physical health and spiritual health are connected. Mental stress and illness are connected. We speak of psychosomatic illnesses. Some have discerned a relationship of inner stress with reduced resistance to heart disease, cancer and more.

St. John Chrysostom often commented on how nothing in life is to be feared but this alone: sin.  Slander, misfortune, illness and suffering, however painful they may be, can make us stronger, wiser, more patient, and more. Only sin makes us worse.Sin turns us away from God, the source of all good things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr, grew up in an affluent, prominent, well connected German family. He chose to risk everything, because he felt that morally he had to resist Hitler. While sitting in a Nazi prison, he wrote,  “What do happiness and unhappiness mean? They depend so little on circumstances and so much more on what goes on inside us” (Bonhoeffer, p. 496).

I often sense in individual people and in society a desire that the Church or that people of faith “fix” what is physically wrong in the world. People want to measure the Church’s progress by how many people it feeds or how many homes it builds or by some other measure of social service. This desire or expectation is not wrong. Jesus did heal the sick and gave sight to the blind. In fact he valued healing as more important than the ritual observance of the Hebrew law. More than once he angered people by healing on the Sabbath. Still, the ministry of healing or the ministry to society is only part of the Gospel. The other part is the healing of the inner person. This is expressed in Christ’s forgiveness of the paralytic’s sins.

The more I look and think about this life, the more I believe that humanity’s outer woes are reflective of its inner failings. Selfishness, greed, pride, failure to love the Creator on His creation all contribute to the decline of the world around us. Though it is not easy to see or connect the inner and outer worlds, they are related.

“Deal or No Deal?” Physical paralysis or sin? If you could choose only one, which would it be? I thank God that we do not have to make this choice. But until we learn to hate sin and to love God with all our mind and heart and soul, we have work to do.

The prayer of St. Ephraim, a traditional Lenten prayer, asks God, “Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to condemn my brother… “ Lent is all about seeing our sins and conquering them. May it be for each of us a source of blessing! Amen.

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Text: Mark 2:1-12

At that time, Jesus entered Capernaum and it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is a blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-he said to the paralytic-"I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"