[This is a homily I wrote some years ago for the auspicious occasion of the "sixth Sunday after Pentecost." There are a few things in here which you perhaps would like (or need) to see...]
The first thing that we see in the story of the healing of the paralytic [Mt 9:1-8], the first thing that we are confronted with, is sin: the sins of the paralytic, which Jesus immediately forgave. You would think after such a wonderful thing happened—that this man’s sins were instantly forgiven—that the crowd at that point (instead of after the healing, at the end) would have given praise to God for what He was doing in their midst. Rather than giving praise, the scribes, at least, accused Him of blasphemy—or they accused Him in their hearts of blasphemy. But Jesus, the reader of hearts, immediately picked that up and then asked them a question: “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”
Now, when questions are asked of somebody in the gospel, we should realize that questions are asked of us. We’re not really concerned about Pharisees who have been dead for 2,000 years and what was in their hearts. But the Word of God is asking us, today, to look at ourselves and see if there’s evil in our hearts—and, if there is, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” Why do you, like the Pharisees, judge something, when you don’t have all the facts? The Pharisees certainly thought they were in the right, the way that they always did: by external appearances, and by their own prejudices and presuppositions. “Why do you judge? Why do you think evil in your hearts?” Jesus was doing the work and the will of God in their midst, doing wondrous things, and they said, “No; you’re blaspheming.”
Well, this has been going on since before Christ, and ever since Christ people have been doing the same things, but He calls us not to be like that. So that’s the first thing that we have to do, examine ourselves. If we think evil in our hearts of somebody, or of anything—especially when we don’t really know what we’re talking about—we have to repent of that, and listen to that gentle question and reproach of the Lord, and respond in the right way.
Now, going back to what He started with: “Your sins are forgiven.” People in the world criticize Christianity for many things; one of them is that there is too much focus on sin and all the bad stuff. A lot of Christians—even in the Church these days—don’t like to hear about that. They don’t like to hear that part of the Gospel, to recognize that we are sinners and that we have to repent of our sins if we expect to find salvation.
Both the Old and the New Testaments would probably be about half the size they are now, if you were to cut out all the references to sin. That’s because it’s the existential situation of mankind; that’s why the Son of Man, the Son of God, had to come into the world: to take away the sins of the world, and to suffer and to sacrifice Himself so that sins might be forgiven. That comes up in many places in the Gospel. St. John pointed Him out as the Lamb of God—who does what? Who takes away the sins of the world. When Jesus was going to his Passion, He said, “I’m giving my body and my blood for you, broken and poured out…”—why? “…for the forgiveness of sins.” This was an important part of Jesus’ preaching, which eventually led to his death; and He said very explicitly, in John, “The world hates Me.” You know why? “Because I testify to it that what it does is evil.” You can’t really get more clear than that, and pretty soon He was on the Cross.
Jesus and his preaching, and his focus on uprooting and forgiving sin, put him in the camp of those annoying preachers that Bishop Oscar Romero wrote about when he said, “A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the Gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, allowing them to stay in their sin, betrays the Gospel’s call. But a preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens, as when a light turned on awakens—and of course, annoys—the sleeper, that is the preaching of Christ, calling: ‘Wake up! Be converted!’” This is Jesus’ mission in the world, and we see it, over and over, in the Gospels.
Now, this “Wake up! Be converted!”—that call to a soul in sin—is kind of the same thing as are the words, “Get up and walk!” to a body in paralysis. Jesus says to the man who is physically sick, “Get up and walk!” and he walked. And He also said, in effect, in Romero’s words, “Wake up and be converted!” and so his soul also got up, through the forgiveness of his sins. We’re called to wake up and be converted, to get up and walk.
What does it mean to walk, and how do we walk? “To walk,” in Biblical idiom, is to live; the manner of your life is how you walk. St. Paul says that when we’re baptized, we’re given the grace “to walk in newness of life,” and so he exhorts us “to walk by the Spirit, and not by the flesh.” And we’re told, in other places, “to walk in the Light.” St. Paul also reminds us of “the sins in which you once walked.” That’s a common term in the Scriptures: how you live is how you “walk.”
In the epistle reading today [Rom. 12:6-14], St. Paul gives us some instructions on how to “walk.” Once we recognize our sin, and repent of our sin, and get the wake-up call to rise and walk—then what? Then we have to know how to walk! The Apostle speaks of a way of walking in the Spirit that is meant for everybody. He starts with the bottom line: “Let love be genuine.” Everyone is called to that, and that’s where we start. After that, he explains what it means, though it doesn’t come across so well in the English prose, but in the Greek it’s almost a little poem or rhyme, mostly given in participles: it’s something like an action that you’re supposed to be doing all the time, an ongoing thing. So this is your “walking in Christ”—it goes like this:
In zeal, not slothful:
In spirit, burning; the Lord, serving.
In hope, rejoicing; in affliction, enduring.
In prayer, steadfastly continuing.
That’s the way we “walk in Christ.”
Finally, he says, “Bless! Bless your persecutors, and don’t curse them!” He says it in several ways; in the next few verses he goes in and out of the same theme: “Bless those who persecute you. Bless, and do not curse them. Repay no one evil for evil, and overcome evil by good…” but then he says, “…as far as it depends on you,” because there may be enemies or evil-doers or people who hate us who are just going to go on hating us, and we may not be able to find reconciliation in this life, but we have to be, in our hearts, willing to forgive.
We cannot return evil for evil—but that does not mean to welcome evil into your life, either. If someone who hates you and who is intent on destroying you comes to your door, you’re not required by Christian charity to open your door and say, “Oh yes. Please do come in and destroy my home and my family.” We’re not required to do that. We can keep enemies “at arm’s length.” But pray for them! Pray for their salvation and conversion, and do not have the same evil attitude towards them as they have towards you: our ways have to be different than the ways of the world.
So, this is the call to “get up and walk.” As Oscar Romero said: “A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the Gospel.” Now, “pointing out sin” does not mean just picking on everybody else’s faults that you don’t like! That’s not the evangelical pointing out of sin. It’s mainly for things that are public evils, which are threatening to disrupt the Christian and human society. We see today that there are many people, even leaders in this country, who are promoting public evils. If you see someone or hear of someone publicly promoting abortion, homosexual activity, and several other “hot” issues right now (moral issues that have become political ones), you have to say, “This is wrong! This is against the Gospel!”
You might have to suffer for that. I read that a pastor in Sweden was actually jailed because he dared, from his own pulpit, to say that homosexual activity is a sin. And because he said it was a sin, he was thrown in jail for a month. You know, this is the beginning of some hard times in this world, I think, but too bad: we have to “preach the Gospel, in season and out.” But we also have to realize that we don’t return evil for evil, but pray for their repentance and salvation.
And so today, now, as we come to Holy Communion, listen for those words of Christ, for those words both of forgiveness and of the calling to get up and walk, to wake up and be converted, to change your life—not just to receive forgiveness once and then fall back into your old paralysis, but to get up and start walking in newness of life.
It’s an important thing that happens at Communion: Jesus Christ Himself is coming into us now. He is coming into our body, soul, and spirit, into our consciousness and unconsciousness. Like the word of God, mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews, He goes right down to the joints and marrow of our bones, like a sword, cutting through and discerning the intentions of the heart and soul. He’s in us, and radiating through us, filling us, sanctifying us, giving us Himself, and giving us that call to rise and live the new life. So let us approach Him with great love, with passion. Let this moment of Communion be your passion for Christ, because his Passion made it possible for you to receive Him. Let us be passionate for Him, listen to his word as He calls us, as He so often does in the Scriptures: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Then receive his Body and Blood. Wake up, be converted; get up and walk!