Monday, December 10, 2007

Reflection for Monday of the 2nd Week of Advent

In today's readings we hear the theme of God's salvation. From the book of Isaiah we hear the kind of salvation we can expect from God. To a people who had strayed from God's ways and had just suffered the exile, the author of Isaiah proclaims God's saving action, specifically called God's recompense. There then follows a series of dramatic changes, the desert, symbol of the unfruitfulness of the people as a whole, blooming, and the illnesses of the people, symbol of the consequences of sin, being healed, both of which indicate that God's recompense is a complete and total restoration of the individual and of the people as a community. What's more, this restoration opens up for the people a holy way upon which they can walk without going astray or falling into impurity.

If the first reading were not enough to make the point evident, the Gospel portrays an event in the life of Jesus where we see this prophecy being fulfilled. A man who was paralyzed is presented to Jesus. Jesus forgives his sins, heals him of his physical ailment, and commands him to get up and walk. A connection is also made between the Holy Way mentioned in Isaiah, Jesus, who called himself the way, and the faith-life of the church, which as we know from the Acts of the Apostles was simply called “the way” by the early church.
We see, then, that God's salvation is first and foremost the forgiveness of sins, but not a simple forgiveness that leaves the sinner as he or she is, but rather that restores the person, that gives the person back his dignity and allows him to walk in holiness, giving him a way to follow, and that way is Jesus.

Reflecting on how God saves us can lead us to consider our own response to this salvation, both in how we relate to God and how we relate to our brothers. Advent, looking at the final coming of Christ, focuses on repentance. In our examination of our lives we find not only sins but also areas where we are paralyzed or suffering the consequences of sin (be it our own or that of others), areas which can frustrate us in our attempts to walk in holiness. Seeing as Jesus not only forgives sins but also heals the consequences of sins, our areas of paralysis should not cause us to be afraid to encounter the Lord. Rather, like the friends of the man in today's gospel, we should bring these areas specifically to the Lord's attention, praying for healing and continuing to be aware of how these areas affect us. As Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik puts it, simply by frequently making these areas the subject of prayer one already allows them to be transformed from weaknesses to areas where one encounters the Lord, and thus by inviting the Lord into these areas one will see the Lord provide the growth and the healing we need.

Being faced with a salvation that restores our dignity when our sins have been forgiven prompts us to examine the way in which we forgive our brothers. There are basically two ways to forgive others, a pompous way and a compassionate way. An example of the pompous way of forgiveness can be seen in Ralph Fiennes' character Amon Goeth in the movie Schindler's List. The head of the labor camp, Goeth takes Oskar Schindler's suggestion to pardon people as a way to glorify himself and further demean the worth of the person. After pardoning a man, he shoots him as he's walking away. Likewise for us, at times our forgiveness is masked malevolence. We forgive the offense but pay the person back by lowering our esteem for them. We don't hold the offense against them exteriorly, but cut down their dignity in our minds and in our hearts. On the contrary, we have the example of Jesus who is compassionate, who restores the dignity of the person he forgives by raising them up. Likewise we too are called to be compassionate with our brothers and sisters, forgiving them just as we too have been in need of forgiveness by completely setting aside the offense and our desire for revenge.

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