Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 26, 2003

St. Martin de Porres

(Based on Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25; Psalm 41:2-3,4-5, 13-14; 2nd Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12)

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine."

When the Israelites first heard this poem of Second Isaiah, it must have appeared too much. Outlandish. Beyond belief.

Just think of their situation. They are captives in a foreign land. They have been led away in chains to Babylon. All that had meant anything to them is gone. Their holy city Jerusalem is long gone. The Temple and the Ark of the Covenant have been taken from them. Life appears hopeless. God is very far. There is no prospect of return. All is hopeless.

And the prophet has God saying they will be restored and led back. "I am doing something new!" Something unheard of, something that has never been done before. Totally new. And most importantly, now. He almost taunts them: can't you sense it?

It's all about promises made and promises kept. It's about an unchanging, faithful God demanding faith in the promise.

And the passage contains a most unusual demand. The prophet has God telling them not to remember the things of old. This is the people who had been told again and again by all the prophets to remember the great deeds God performed of old, not to forget. Their whole identity consists in remembering their story. As we do each Sunday in the Eucharist, "Do these things in remembrance of me."

And here they are being told not to think of the past. What's going on here?

Apparently there are two ways of recalling, remembering. Remembering can be consoling and reassuring; it can strengthen us, to face the present. But there is another way of remembering which reduces it to nostalgia. We recall that God did these saving deeds then. But 'then' everything was heroic; it was surrounded with haloes, superhuman saints and forefathers.

Could God really do a new thing -- a totally new thing! -- in these awful circumstances?

As I was preparing these reflections I was remind of hearing a bishop a few years ago. We were at a meeting and at lunch he was saying that in his view the world had gone to the dogs; there was enormous moral decay; people were far from God. I finally had to remind him that humans have been going to the dogs since the time of Adam and Eve. They were going to the dogs before there were dogs! People have been singing that same sad song in every age of the church's history.

Some of you may be old enough to remember what it was like when the Beatles were coming! Rock and roll! Elvis and afros and Beatniks! And before that you can read in the 1800's accounts of the collapse of all civilization when (gasp!) The Irish had landed. Then the Italians and the blacks and the muslims. And there was TV, and disco, and rap, and hip-hop. Can God really do a new thing in the face of all that?

The question today's liturgy confronts us with is: do we really believe that God can do a brand new thing right now? Do we believe that God's yes to us and to creation is always totally yes, not sometimes yes and sometimes no?

We have entered upon a terribly painful time for our world.

No matter what our political assessment may be, whether we think our government is right in going to war against Iraq or whether we think it is wrong; no matter that we all want peace even if we differ on the means -- a person would be living an illusion if they don't recognize that we will soon be faced with yet one more war. There will be more destruction and death, the death of people made in the image of God, flesh of our flesh.

In the face of God's apparent deafness to the cries of people all around our globe, it is an easy temptation to depression and despair. No matter how we try, it seems human beings will never learn how to live at peace. We go to war over and over and over. We're like the Israelites in Babylon, captives, impotent to liberate ourselves.

The men in today's Gospel refuse to give up in the face of impossible obstacles. There is no way to Jesus. So they got up on the roof and tear a hole -- whether it was through tile or adobe or branches -- they are going to put this paralytic in Jesus' face!

And Mark tells us that "when Jesus saw their faith" -- their faith --- not the faith of the paralytic but the faith of a supportive community, he turns to the paralytic and says "your faith has made you whole."

And he takes the occasion to go farther. Over these weeks since Epiphany the Gospels have been successive revelations of just who he was. And today, in the face of skepticism and attack from the scribes, he presents himself not merely as one who can cure a person's body, but as one who has the power to forgive sin. Talk about doing a new thing!

You and I are probably not going to be able to keep this war from happening. There will be bloodshed and great destruction. A people who have had outsiders carve up their land and tell them who they belong to for over 50 years will be the victims of the politicians once again.

What we must ask the Lord is to increase in us faith in our God's fidelity to the promise: no matter what, God is faithful. And God is a God of life, bringing life even out of the deaths we create.

As we receive the life of Jesus at the table let us pray for his single-minded trust in the promise of his Father. That our lives may be an unchanging yes -- Amen! -- to the unchanging fidelity of God.