Well, we have arrived at the ‘extra’ Sunday in ordinary time! (Remember the ‘lost’ Sunday of the Lord’s Baptism?!) The bonus is that we have all enjoyed an extra week of relaxation before Lent! Yes, Wednesday of this week is ASH WEDNESDAY, so brace yourselves and be of good heart. I take this opportunity of wishing you all “well over the fast.”

In many ways, this week’s scripture extracts [ISAIAH 43:18 – 19. 21 – 22. 24 – 24 … 2 CORINTHIANS 1: 18 – 22 …. MARK 2: 1 – 12] all emphasise what was said last week about the need for us to do things to people and not for them.

THE PSALM [40 or 41] provides a powerful foundation on which to build when it states “if you uphold me I shall be unharmed.” However, the Lord does not uphold the disciple who is anxious for his or her own advantage. Yet, the disciple IS ‘upheld’ when he “considers the poor and the weak.” It is the word consider which is all important, because when we are considerate, what we do to people is much more important than what we do for them. Why? For the simple reason that real consideration influences our attitudes and approaches. The Gospel narratives show us a Jesus Christ who is always considerate.

So much is evident in this Sunday’s record by Mark. In these verses two fundamental points emerge. Firstly, the evangelist tells us that Jesus was “preaching the word to them.” THIS was the Lord’s primary purpose and motivation – to preach the Good News. The preaching of the word came first, miracles were less important and were NOT Jesus’ primary preoccupation. So much so that over and over again we read that after a miracle Jesus says something like (as in last Sunday’s extract): “mind that you say nothing to anyone.” People, all of us, have to hear the Good News. We must listen to it, receive it, and apply it to ourselves — apply it in terms of conversion, not as a set of moral rules and regulations. {In my Lenten Reader 2012 I have mentioned Pope Benedict’s warning against equating Christianity with moralism.}

Yes, faith and good works are firmly connected. Yet, faith comes first, and faith arises out of hearing and accepting THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST! I am not a social worker. I am a minister of the Gospel. This fact is on my immediate short list of essential requirements for bishops, priests and deacons: to recapture the lost art of preaching …. of proclaiming an exciting message, and not a boring regurgitation of rules and regulations. Of course, this fact is connected to the point made last week about accountability! If the regular Sunday Mass attenders do not do the ‘holding to account’ then they must, if not prepared to speak, hold their peace! {It would not be a bad idea for a few bishops to be told, clearly, that their Confirmation sermon is in urgent and drastic need of a retread!} See that this Sunday Mark tells us that “so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door.”{Do we need to comment that in many of our churches there are people in front of the door even though there is plenty of room inside!?)

Secondly, Mark expresses the Lord’s consideration for the efforts made by some people who “stripped the roof.” He was considerateTO those people as well as the man on the stretcher. However, what was it that moved Jesus to BE CONSIDERATE? Mark gives the answer: “seeing their faith.” It was their faith – not, primarily, the plight of the paralytic state of the man involved. This undeniable fact is borne out by the Lord’s first and immediate response. Something very particular and special had to happen, before anything else, TO the paralytic. “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Perhaps we forget that Jesus’ answer to the question “who can forgive sins”, was intimately connected to the astonishment and praise of God expressed by those who were listening to the word?!

What is our focus when we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Does the priest do something TO or FOR the person? Do the penitents seek something to be done FOR them or TO them?

Do not neglect words from the Isaiah extract – “no need to think about what was done before … I am doing a new deed … it is I who must blot out everything.”

Person TO person. Heart TO heart.