“No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See, I am doing a new deed.” The Prophet Isaiah struggled to express the wonder of God’s salvation. The God of Israel would create his people anew. The past, with its burden of sin and shame, would be no more. Forgiveness was to be the new deed that God would fashion in the hearts of his people. Lives that had grown tired and weary would be overwhelmed with the graciousness of a kindness long forgotten.
Isaiah’s words were not addressed to an ideal and well-disposed people. They had become, in the words of the prophet, a people that had not troubled themselves with thoughts of God. The more they distanced themselves from God, the more easily they tolerated their own sinfulness and that of their society. They had become strangers in the presence of God, tolerant of almost anything that contributed to a selfish prosperity.
When crisis struck, as it did with deportation and the destruction of Jerusalem, a broken people felt bereft of every hope. Perhaps, with the wisdom that hindsight brings, they even felt themselves to be beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.
Many in our own times have become strangers in the presence of God. The business of day-to-day life clamours for attention, taking over the prayerful reflection that brings us back to God. Almost unnoticed tolerance slips into immorality. When crisis comes, great or small, we are ashamed to call upon the God who has slipped so easily from our hearts.
It was to such a people that the Prophet Isaiah made his promise: “The people I have formed for myself will sing my praises.”
When we have sinned, a loving God removes from our shoulders the impossible burden of rendering ourselves worthy of his forgiveness. He embraces the broken-hearted in the depths of their shame, calls to life a forgotten hope. “See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it?”
Mark’s moving account of the healing of the paralytic reveals Christ as the fulfilment of this promised forgiveness.
The whole account revolves around the question of the forgiveness. The first words of Jesus to this unfortunate man were not words of physical healing, but words of forgiveness. “Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic: ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ The onlookers reacted immediately. ‘How can this man talk like this? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God?’”
Perhaps, beyond their hostility to Jesus, the Scribes were putting into words the hidden fears of every sinner. Today, physicians are more capable than ever in healing the frailties of the body. The inner scars of sin and shame are less easily healed. They have the power to disable and cripple lives.
The healing of the paralytic encapsulated the “new deed” promised by the Prophet Isaiah. “To prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I order you to get up, pick up your stretcher and go off home.”
The Lord did not intend us to live lives bent beneath the shame of the past. The words of his forgiveness create us afresh, enabling us to walk upright with a new heart. Let us seek such forgiveness in his healing sacraments.