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Forgiveness in the Community

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

There are many instances in the Gospels when Jesus says the words: "Your faith has saved you"; so many, in fact, that similar words in the passage which we proclaim today from St. Mark's Gospel may not register too quickly. St. Mark tells us that Jesus was motivated by the faith of the four men who bring the paralytic to him in Capernaum. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5) It was not the faith of the paralytic which motivated Jesus in this case; rather, it was the faith of the community which is represented by the four men who carry the paralyzed man to Jesus on a mat. (Interestingly enough, St. Luke and St. Matthew write about the same event, but they say that the man was carried on a bed. St. Mark preserves the use of a mat to indicate that this man was also from among the poor of the community.)

There is no doubt that sometime during his ministry, Jesus healed such people. However, the nuances which I cite in the preceding paragraph have led Scripture scholars to identify this passage as an example of how the experience of the faith community from which the Gospel springs influenced the evangelist. Early in the history of Christianity, non-Christians challenged the notion that the community or Church could tell its followers that their sins were forgiven through the sacraments. From its earliest days the Church taught that sin was forgiven through reception of the Eucharist, through the Order of Penance (which was the origin of our current Lenten practices), and through its practice of anointing the sick. They contended that only God could forgive; the Church was incapable of doing so.

Jesus is challenged by the attitudes of the scribes in St. Mark's telling of the story. The challenge remains unspoken, but Jesus perceives it in his mind. As is so often the case in the Gospel, Jesus rises to the challenge. Not only does he contend that he has the power to forgive sins, he does it by destroying their notion that such disability is caused by sin. St. Mark uses the role of the community represented by the four men to indelibly approve the action of the assembly in the ministry of forgiveness.

St. John's Gospel invests the disciples gathered in the upper room with the same power. Though the stories are not similar, the moral of the stories is the same. When we forgive those who sing against us, we are acting in God's name.

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