February 2020


“Cease to do evil; learn to do good . . . your sins are forgiven”

Isaiah 1.16-17 & Luke 5.20 (RSV)


There is a strong strand of teaching in the Bible that connects misfortune with sin. In some instances, it can be both crude and cruel to make such a direct connection — the suffering of the innocent is a case in point. The teaching is strongest in the Old Testament, where it is robustly challenged by the book of Job. It is challenged again by Jesus, both in his association with sinners and in his teaching (e.g. re- the tower of Siloam in Luke 13.4).

The relationship between human sin and misfortune, whether sickness or some other disaster, is clearly an extremely subtle one, and it cannot be ignored. This month’s Saying will give us a contemplative background as we wrestle with this doctrine.

The Word of God through Isaiah has a sense of continuity about it. Not just, “Don’t do this — do that”, so much as, “Strive continually to direct yourself from sinfulness” and at the same time school yourself in thinking and behaving positively in the direction of goodness and love. (The Hebrew word for “cease” has overtones of “being flabby, idle, ineffectual”. So one’s attitude towards sin is to see it as something essentially weak and useless, not worth the candle).

Then comes Jesus, boldly pronouncing God’s forgiveness to a paralysed man — something the patient needed but didn’t ask for. The hidden subtlety of the sin/sickness connection is stated, but at the same time the flow of God’s healing love is not impeded, and the paralytic walks home.

In this ‘compound’ Saying, the relationship between the words from Isaiah and those of Jesus recorded in Luke can inform our understanding of both. For the purposes of contemplation, when we have spent time with the whole, we might use just a part for our time of silent prayer. We can then also use this as Watchword for daily life during the month ahead, as we embark on the time of Lent. We may determine that we are going to do things differently; to change our lives in some way, large or small; to deepen our faith and extend our understanding of the love that Jesus showed us in his life and death and resurrection.