6 December, Monday – God’s Strange Mercy

Dec 6 – Memorial for St. Nicholas, bishop

St. Nicholas (d. 346) was a priest and abbot, and the bishop of Myra, Lycia (modern Turkey). He was generous to the poor, and a special protector of the innocent and wrong. Many stories grew up around him prior to his becoming Santa Claus.

One story is that upon hearing that a local man had fallen on such hard times that he was planning to sell his daughters into prostitution, Nicholas went by night to the house and threw three bags of gold in through the window, saving the girls from an evil life. These three bags, gold generously given in time of trouble, became the three golden balls that indicate a pawn broker’s shop.

Another story is that he raised to life three young boys, who had been murdered and pickled in a barrel of brine to hide the crime. These stories led to his patronage of children in general, and of barrel-makers besides.

Another St. Nicholas story is that he induced some thieves to return their plunder, which led to his protection against theft and robbery, and his patronage of them – he is not helping them to steal, but to repent and change. In the past, thieves have been known as Saint Nicholas’ clerks or Knights of St. Nicholas.

A fourth story is that during a voyage to the Holy Lands, a fierce storm blew up, threatening the ship. He prayed about it, and the storm calmed – hence the patronage of sailors and those like dockworkers who work on the sea.

  • Patron Saint Index

Isa 35:1-10
Lk 5:17-26

Seeing their faith he said, ‘My friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ / Who is this man talking blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

Why does it seem easier to believe some people but harder to believe others? Why does it seem easier to believe certain facts over others? My questions spring from the private thoughts of the Pharisees in the Gospel passage today. Many a time we recognise the failure of others to see through what we perceive as obvious ‘scams,’ whilst we ourselves remain ignorant to our own blindspots. This tendency afflicts all of us in different areas of our lives.

Some of us can readily spot the ridiculous claims of some ‘prosperity gospel’ preachers and churches, while at the same time, are quite easily convinced of the medical properties of uncertified pharmaceutical drugs or weight-loss prescriptions. Or some who religiously attend and fork out exorbitant fees for self-improvement workshops, while casting aspersions on the faith of churchgoers. Such paradoxes can be jarring and awkward when brought to our realisation. It is probably a similar situation when Jesus chastised, ‘Which of these is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven you” or to say, “Get up and walk”?

It occurred to me today, when Jesus forgives the sins of the man and intentionally pronounces full absolution for the paralysed man’s sins in full view and earshot of all present – that this is the earliest record of Jesus instituting the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in the presence of the Jewish peoples no less. Alas, they were far from accepting this blasphemy! Skepticism ruled their thoughts. As we ponder on the words of rebuke Jesus chose, it becomes apparent that the scribes and Pharisees were perhaps more ready to believe Jesus to be a quack performing some hocus-pocus, than the Son of Man who brings us God’s forgiveness and redeems our sins.

During the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) where the Priest absolves the penitent of the confessed sins, in persona Christi (Latin) – it is by the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit in which it is accomplished. Yet some of us still utter those historic words today, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

At the same time, like the challenge Jesus puts to the Pharisees’ beliefs, might we be unwilling to peer deeper into our own souls and uncover the root of sin in many of our present trials and tribulations? Perhaps there are some paralysing problems in our lives and relationships that we have not examined through the lens of a genuine love and devotion to God. While we do sincerely pray for the release from present sufferings and difficulties, there is a path of prayer that leads us to see things through the anger and grief of God over our unacknowledged sins. It is through this threshold of contrition that we unlock the door to the overflowing Divine Mercy of Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

There is no corner of the world, nor any hideous deed that falls outside of the grace and mercy of God our Heavenly Father. If we only heed Jesus’ words to ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28).

As part of our Advent preparations and reflections, may we lay to rest our burdens outside the manger, in order that we may be filled with everlasting joy in our hearts from experiencing God’s forgiveness. In this way, we are ready to receive the birth of Jesus in the crib of our hearts as He first appeared to Mary and Joseph.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray, Lord Jesus, help me to release myself from the chains of my sins and unforgiveness of others who have hurt me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Abba Father, for your tenderness and mercy all these days of my life so far. Thank you for loving and forgiving me despite the ways I have grieved you.

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