Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Isaiah 43: 18-19,21-22,24b-25
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark: 2:1-12


February 22-23, 2003 Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

There were two brothers who were farmers. They lived and farmed next to each other for 40 years, sharing chores, machinery and supplies. Then one silly argument led to harsh words and soon to bitter hostility and then a long period of silence. One morning there was a knock on the older brother’s door. He opened it to find a man. The man said, “I am looking for work. I am a carpenter by trade but I would be glad to help you out with whatever jobs you might have.” The older brother took him outside and said, “Look at the farm across that creek. It belongs to my younger brother. Last week he took his bulldozer and broke through the river levee, and what used to be a lovely meadow is now a creek. He did that to spite me. But I plan to do him one better. See that pile of lumber curing over by the barn. I want you to build be an 8-foot fence so I won’t have to see that creek or his farm.”

The carpenter said, “If you just show me where the nails and the posthole digger are, I’ll build just what you need.”

So the older brother showed the carpenter where everything was, and then went off to town to do some errands. When he returned about sunset, the carpenter was just finishing up his work. But to the older brother’s surprise, instead of an 8-foot high fence, the carpenter had built a sturdy bridge, complete with handrails over the creek. And coming across the bridge was his younger brother, hands outstretched in reconciliation. After the two brothers first shook hands and then embraced, they turned to see the carpenter shoulder his toolbox and start to leave.

The older brother called out to him, “It took a lot of courage and wisdom to build this bridge after what I told you. Please stay with us a while.”

The carpenter just smiled and said, “I’d love to stay on but I have so many bridges to build.”

Today’s Gospel story is the first of five stories that Mark tells at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Each story introduces a group of adversaries to Jesus. In this story of the curing of the paralytic, we meet the scribes. The scribes spend their days studying the scriptures and trying to teach people how to live by the scriptures. In all his conflicts with the scribes, Jesus tries to teach them to look at the deeper meaning of the scriptures which are meant to free people, rather than looking at them as something that boxes people in.

When Jesus tells the man on the mat that his sins have been forgiven, the scribes are quick to point out that forgiveness comes from God. The scriptures say this in several places, and the reading from Isaiah we heard today reinforces that. It is God who constantly takes the initiative in forgiving, always coming up with new ways.

But as every part of God’s dealings with creation, God enlists the help of human beings. Notice that Jesus does not say, “I forgive you your sins.” He acknowledges that the forgiveness has already come from God, “ Your sins are forgiven.” But he foreshadows the command he will give the disciples after his resurrection when he will tell them, “Whose sins you shall forgive, are forgiven.” He does this when he says, “… that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins on earth…” The Jerome Biblical Commentary says that this use of Son of Man refers to Jesus’ humanity, specifically his taking on human flesh as the representative of the Father.

Forgiveness is a wonderful gift to human beings. Too many people look on forgiveness as a sign of weakness. It is instead a work of strength and healing. Today’s story illustrates the close connection between physical manifestations of illness and forgiveness. While later statements by Jesus make it clear that illness is not a direct punishment by God for sin, there are many instances where holding on to a grudge or striving for revenge has caused physical harm.

We all need forgiveness; and we all need to forgive.Just look around at the conflicts that exist in the world, in our local communities, and in our families. I suggest that all of them could be made significantly better with some forgiveness. That forgiveness has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is with us. We are the sons and daughters of man to whom God has given the authority to announce his forgiveness. God is not sometimes yes and sometimes no. God is always yes: yes, God loves us; yes, God forgives us. But in order to experience the forgiveness that God blesses us with, we need to forgive. As we are about to pray in the Our Father, we experience forgiveness in the measure that we forgive others.

My prayer is that we all exercise that authority and make forgiveness our top priority. As we look forward in ten days to Lent, perhaps forgiveness should be our Lenten resolution. Let us give up the grudges we hold on to. What a fruitful Lent it would be if we seek out those who have harmed us, and forgive them. Sometimes the most important one we need to forgive is ourself, sometimes it is someone who has already died. But we need to actively seek them out and forgive them. So when we leave Mass today, let's go build some bridges.

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