Compassion is at the heart of Jesus’ life and teaching because hurt is to be taken seriously. Jesus experienced everything that human hurt is. Not only did he experience hurt, he became hurt! That’s how seriously he took it. Hence his angry reaction to scribes, Pharisees and other religious types who put religion and beliefs about God above dealing with human hurt.
There is a mystery at the heart of today’s Gospel (Matthew 9:1-8). Confronted with a physical ailment, Jesus first pronounced forgiveness of sins. This does not mean that the man’s paralysis was caused by sin. Jesus rejected the idea on more than one occasion (John 9:3; Luke 13:2). Mark describes a similar incident. And John describes the healing of another paralytic to whom Jesus said, “Sin no more.” Forgiveness was especially important to everything Jesus did and spoke, so we might conclude that sin is always involved in illness. But let’s be careful in saying that: Sometimes sin is indeed the cause of illness (smoking, drugs, for example). But most often sin is a result of illness!. For example, illness can lead to despair, bitterness, jealousy, anger, rejection of God, even suicide!
Forgiveness, therefore, is essential for complete healing. This is the part that the Pharisees didn’t understand. Yes, only God can forgive sins (as the Pharisees point out in Mark 2:7) – but we humans can help someone come to that place of total healing. We can help a person come through the anger and despair and bitterness, so that the physical healing will be more powerful when it happens. Jesus was profoundly aware of human needs.
Greece today is the “sick man of Europe”. The sickness is deep, and without forgiveness nothing will happen to improve the situation. Forgiveness of debt must be part of any rescue. Without it no healing can take place. Take it from Jesus! The tragedy is that while Greece is being looked upon as a dysfunctional country, the real sickness is in Europe itself. Jesus would say, “Physician heal yourself” (Luke 4:23). Europe has lost its soul; and Greece lost its own soul when it joined the euro.
What a contrast to the values that should describe a Christian society. And where in the world do you find such a society? Nowhere, because no nation can possibly be Christian, regardless of what it claims to be! Listen to what St. Paul wrote in today’s reading. Do you see these values where you live?
Let love be genuine (Ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος); hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection (τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ εἰς ἀλλήλους φιλόστοργοι); outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit (τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες – lit. ‘boil in the spirit’ = to commit oneself completely), serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints (ταῖς χρείαις τῶν ἁγίων κοινωνοῦντες – κοινωνία, sharing), practice hospitality (τὴν φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες). Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
That’s St. Paul. In the past two weeks, three times I started to write about the Greek situation, but abandoned each effort and all three exist as incomplete drafts on this website. I started a fourth attempt and it was going to be my sermon today, but decided again to not pursue it. My primary responsibility is to preach the gospel as fully and honestly as I can. I briefly mentioned Greece and Europe today, but I think it’s best for individual people to draw their own conclusions and what connections they want to make between the messages of the Gospel and St. Paul today. The message of Jesus is always relevant and up to date!