JANUARY 17, 2014

MARK 2:1-12

GOD ALONE CAN FORGIVE SINS.  This straightforward and perspicuous statement illustrates well a truth that applies to all of Scripture, the Old as well as the New Testament. "All literary works have a surplus of meaning."  Modern linguistics rightly asserts that this principle holds true only in regard to literature, in contrast with scientific writings.  It certainly applies to the literary work that provides us with the life story of the Saint whose feast we commemorate at today's mass and liturgy, Antony of Egypt.  This work was written by Saint Athanasius at a time of an aggressively hostile persecution of the Church.   The author himself suffered repeatedly from this persecution and probably was in exile as he wrote the life of the monk who, in good part owed his fame to the widespread popularity of this masterful story of his life.

The surplus of meaning contained in today's Gospel text includes the fact that Jesus is himself divine.  For he explicitly exercises in his own name a right that God alone possesses. He does not question the statement made by the scribes that God alone can forgive sins.  He demonstrates by healing this paralytic that he is sent by God and given miraculous powers to reinforce his right to forgive sins.  The unstated conclusion that is the hidden surplus of meaning is that he himself is God.

Saint Antony's hermit life itself shares with today's Gospel an unstated surplus of significance that accords well with the account of Jesus' defiant healing in the face of hostile accusation of blasphemy.  For Antony's experience in the desert included assaults from demons that were hostile threats to his solitary vocation.  His eventual victory as shown by his virtues and by his faithful perseverance in his call was due to the active, hidden presence of God sustaining his solitary monk.  Antony became more than a holy man living a dedicated life in the desert of Egypt.  There is a surplus of grace embedded in his spirit that sustained him in his struggles against the forces of evil.  By his imitating the Lord Jesus in this constancy to his call Antony became a symbol of the Lord's approval of a solitary witness in way of life that continues in his Church today.  In the depths of every human heart each of us, no less than Saint Antony, the Father of Monks, stands alone in solitary fidelity to the God in whose image and likeness we are created.   May his intercession as we honor him at this Eucharist today, obtain for us a share in that hidden fidelity that supplies a surplus of significance to our life in Christ.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger