Sometimes I think when we hear incidents described such as the one in today's gospel, where Jesus heals someone, performs what we think of as a miracle, we think that that's put in the gospel to prove that Jesus is God, but that's not the case. You see, when the gospels were written, by that time, sometime after Jesus had died and risen from the dead, they were written by communities of people who were convinced simply by their experience that Jesus is God; they didn't need any other proof. They had experienced the risen Jesus in their life. So these stories are not given to us to prove that Jesus is god, but rather to show us what kind of God we worship.
|Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25|
Psalm 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Full text of the readings
Jesus also shows us a God who fulfills what Isaiah had said in the first lesson: 'It is I, I am the one,' this God who is doing new things, 'I am the one who blots out your offenses for my own sake and remembers your sins no more.' We're seeing a God who reaches out to us to heal us in our spirit, to forgive our sins, and a God who can heal our bodies also, as Jesus does in this incident, but it's a God who shows us that God first reaches out to us.
One of the reasons that the Scribes and Pharisees were so angry at Jesus was the fact that they had rules about how you got your sin forgiven. You had to perform certain sacrifices, you had to come to the temple, you had to pay offerings, and then perhaps God would forgive your sins. Well, that's not the way it is with God. Once we open ourselves to God, the forgiveness is there. We don't have to go through rituals and extraordinary forms of mortification or anything of the sort. God is always quick to forgive — that's what Jesus is revealing to us in today's story from the gospel, that our God is a God who is rich in compassion and love, and who reaches out to us to draw us in if we open ourselves.
I hope that all of us can really begin to absorb this beautiful teaching about God. We sometimes have a sense that God is one we have to fear; God is ready to judge and condemn. That's not so.
Jesus shows us that God is a God who is full of compassion and love, always taking the initiative for God's own sake, to heal and forgive. But as we really begin to experience that and to be confident in God's goodness toward us, then of course, isn't is necessary for us to try to become more like God? We must become people who are quick to forgive, to reconcile, to reach out.
How often (it's beyond anything we can count, I'm sure) have you said the Our Father, the prayer Jesus gave us? How many times have you said, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us?" We say that all the time, but I don't think we really, truly understand what we are saying, how we are called to always be forgiving people, because God is forgiving to us and we want to be like God. Jesus, in fact, if you turn to Matthew's Gospel, makes it so clear that that is one of the most important things that we can learn from him.
'You have heard that it was said of old, 'do not commit murder,' but I say to you, do not even be angry with a brother or sister.' He goes on then to say, 'If you are about to offer your gift at the altar and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,' because you've been angry, perhaps, 'leave your gift at the altar and go first and be reconciled to your brother or sister.' See, for Jesus, it's so important that we be loving and forgiving and reconciling people. Even if we're coming to celebrate the Eucharist, worship God, we should stop, go first and be reconciled, then come and offer our gifts. That's how important it is for Jesus, urging us to be like God.
That, of course, is important in our everyday life. Who of us hasn't offended someone, sometimes even within our own families, or at work, or if we're younger and in school, in our community, in our parish? There can always been those times when we have rifts among ourselves. Are we going to be the one who waits for the other person to come, or will we be like Jesus—go and be reconciled first, be the one who reaches out? It requires a deep change for many of us in order to be like Jesus as we discover this God being revealed to us today.
But it goes beyond our individual lives too. This is why we are the community of disciples of Jesus, why we are the church: We have to somehow bring that spirit of reconciliation and love, the spirit of forgiveness, into our life as a community, as a nation. Perhaps you've heard this before (perhaps I've even proclaimed it here before but it's really worth listening to once more), words that Pope John Paul II proclaimed on Jan. 1, 2002. You may recall Jan. 1 is always in the church now, a world day for peace, and the Holy Father always prepares a statement for that day.
Well, in 2002, Pope John Paul II prepared a statement where he was responding to what had happened to us on Sept. 11, 2001. That was an incident that obviously affected us dramatically, but it was noted throughout the world so John Paul II was responding to that when he, in his Peace Day statement, says, "…in a world in which the power of evil seems once again to have taken the upper hand, how will that world in fact be transformed into a world in which the noblest aspirations of the human heart will triumph, a world in which true peace will prevail."
"A world where evil seems to have the upper hand" — how are we going to change that? It's something that all of us obviously yearn for. Well, John Paul says, "Recent events, including the terrible killings just mentioned," and he meant the ones that happened to us on Sept. 11, "move me to return to a theme which often stirs in the depths of my heart when I remember the events of history which have marked my life, especially my youth." Remember, John Paul grew up during World War II—he was a teenager. He lived under Nazi tyranny and then after that war was over, 40-some years of Communist tyranny, so those are the things that he remembered, the "events of history which have market my life, especially my youth."
"The enormous suffering of peoples and individuals, even among my own friends and acquaintances, caused by Nazi and Communist totalitarianism, has never been far from my thoughts and prayers. I have often paused to reflect on the persistent question: How do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrific violence?" How do we do it? "My reasoned conviction," John Paul says … he's thought about it and now he comes to his conclusion, "confirmed in turn by biblical revelation," the word of God, "is that the shattered order cannot be fully restored except by a response that combines justice with forgiveness. The pillars of true peace are justice and that special form of Christian love that is forgiveness."
That's not the path that we took after 9/11. We responded to violence with violence, even hatred with hatred. And I think, sadly enough, we're continuing to do that. But it's wrong if we really take deeply what Jesus shows us today by his word and example, the God who reaches out to forgive, the God who makes reconciliation the most important thing we can do individually, and also as a nation.
Perhaps as we reflect on this, we can bring ourselves to remember and try to imitate what St. Paul says about himself: "I'm not yes and no, because Jesus isn't yes or no. Jesus is always yes to God, following God's way" — the way of forgiveness, the way of reconciliation, the way of love that can lead to peace.
We must also be always yes, yes to God, yes to the God revealed to us in Jesus, yes to the God who shows us how important it is to reach out in reconciliation and forgiveness, in order to bring peace into our individual lives, into our hearts and souls, and in order to bring peace into our world.
(Editor's Note: We regret that we have to postpone the posting of the audio files of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies for the time being.)