Tuesday, February 21, 2012

12-02-19: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 43:18-19,21-22,24-25 / Psalm 41 / 2 Corinthians 1:18-22 / Mark 2:1-12

Once again the gospels present a healing miracle of Jesus, but this time he connects healing with forgiveness and, thus, in the manner of the ancients – suffering with sin. If Jesus were plying his ministry anywhere but Israel few would have noticed, or cared, about the forgiveness part. But forgiveness, for Jews, was ascribed to God alone.

I once had the privilege of attending a series of lectures by Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. Levine, a practicing Jew herself, told the story of a hypothetical case posed by Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter. While addressing a mixed audience of Jews and Christians, he posed the following story: An SS guard lay dying in a Nazi concentration camp. He bids his comrades to send him a Jew, which they do. The dying Nazi looks at the Jew and asks rather matter-of-factly, sounding more like an order than a request: “Forgive me before I die!” Wiesenthal then asks his audience to identify themselves as Christians or Jews. He then asks the Christians: “Should the Jew forgive the dying Nazi? They answer, yes. He then asks the Jews. They answer, no. An understandable response on the Jews’ part, but there’s a caveat. Apart from the vested emotional interest a Jew would have in such a circumstance, he would insist the reason he cannot forgive is that he has no authority to forgive. Forgiveness is God’s prerogative, not man’s. Wiesenthal, and Levine, use this example to illustrate the different understanding of forgiveness between the two traditions.

This anecdote helps us appreciate the sheer radicalism of the gospel story. The crowd who sees the paralytic take up his mat and walk away may have been astounded; but what shocks is the fact that Jesus has the chutzpah to say the man’s sins are forgiven. The shock is deep. If Jesus had simply mouthed words of forgiveness, the crowd’s shock would have simply been based on Jesus’ presumed blasphemy. But because suffering was viewed through ancient Jewish eyes as the result of sin, the “blasphemy” is more than mere words – it has an effect.

I would suspect that most of us no longer hold that ancient, arcane view that an illness or physical defect is the result of an individual’s personal sinfulness. Yet, it seems we do make that assumption much of the time when it comes to psychological or emotional aberration. One might argue that psychoanalysis, as curative, is based on the assumption that the patient sustained some kind of wound in childhood, intended or not, from a parent or adult-figure, and now suffers the consequences as fixation or arrested development. Therapy involves the recognition of the hurt and the capacity to forgive, or at least to let go, and move on with life. If the patient can do so he may be freed from laboring under a heavy weight, and life opens up in unexpected ways. What remains astounding as much today as in Jesus’ time, is the fact that the power to forgive can do remarkable things not only for the one forgiven but for the one who forgives as well. It is a power that Christ tells us is within our grasp, though we often view it as a kettle too hot to handle and so, for fear of the heat, seldom enter the kitchen.

Returning to Wiesenthal’s Nazi hypothetical, I’m reminded of the well-made movie for television, aired about thirty years ago, called The Scarlet and the Black. Gregory Peck plays Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty who saved thousands of Jews in Nazi occupied Rome during WWII. The Nazi commandant, Col. Herbert Kappler, knew of O’Flaherty’s involvement and tried to have him assassinated. He fails. Then, when the Allies were about to liberate Rome, the Nazi pleaded – demanded really – that O’Flaherty help his family escape Rome. O’Flaherty was enraged that the Nazi would have the gall to even ask this “favor.” When the Allies liberate Rome, Kappler is arrested, but his family has inexplicably escaped to Switzerland. Kappler serves a life sentence. He has but one visitor every week – Msgr. O’Flaherty, who would eventually baptize Kappler a Catholic: a conversion story, as much Kappler’s, as it was O’Flaherty’s.

Lent will soon begin. As a creation of the Church, Lent can help us discover the extraordinary power of forgiveness which, when exercised or experienced, can have powerful, and rather shocking, repercussions.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, that's real! One must have to build up a habit of forgiveness like God to get himself higher position in both professional and spiritual life. Can you plz see the crazy video goo.gl/KIZRf. How important it is for our health that we learn how to forgive.