In a millennium-ending National Public Radio interview, Susan Stamberg asked historian Howard Zinn, "Which movement of the 20th century will most likely to carried over into the 21st?" To her surprise, he immediately responded, "The non-violence movement."

Admitting the non-violent beliefs professed and popularized by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were controversial and rarely employed, Prof. Zinn still felt they made a most lasting impression on the human race than any other idea developed in the last 100 years.

Of course, students of Scripture know the non-violence movement appeared on this planet much earlier than the last century. Prescinding from the obvious statements in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, we hear its roots in Sunday's liturgical readings.

Loving your enemy

As both Gandhi and King often taught, non-violence is based upon the ability to honestly forgive and love ones enemy. Unless these qualities become part of our personality, we'll always be violent. Yet, if we haven't personally experienced love and forgiveness, we can't love and forgive others.

Deutero-Isaiah believed God's love and forgiveness is the most difficult to accept. Throughout his 16 chapters (Isaiah 40-55), this prophet of the Babylonian Exile tries to convince his fellow-Israelites that Yahweh's great love has led to forgiving the sins which brought about Jerusalem's destruction and the people's exile in 586.

But nowhere does he express these concepts better than in Sunday's first reading (Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25). "Remember not the events of the past," Yahweh pleads. "The things of long ago, consider not. See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?...It is I who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses. Your sins, I remember no more."

Like many religious folk, these exiled Jews are comfortable relating to God as the punisher, with themselves as the punished. It takes a real conversion to look at Yahweh as the forgiver, and themselves as the forgiven. When individuals make such a leap of faith, their entire relationship with God changes.

Mark knows such a shift creates problems and engenders controversies. It's no accident that the Gospel on forgiveness (Mk 2:1-12) is the first in a series of five straight conflict stories. In each, Jesus or His disciples do or say something which riles the religious leaders. Then Jesus says or does something to resolve the conflict. The conflicts Jesus faces mirror the conflicts Mark's Gospel community faces when they try to convey their faith to others.

Paralysis

Here, Jesus' forgiveness of a sinful paralytic triggers the conflict. "Who but God alone can forgive sins?" the scribes ask. Jesus quickly resolves the conflict: "That you may know the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth, I say to you, `Rise, pick up your mat, and go home!'"

BY the way, Mark insightfully chooses a paralysis miracle to convey his belief that nothing paralyzes someone more than to go through life unforgiven.

But the real impact of Deutero-Isaiah and Mark's passages only surfaces when we hear the second reading (II Cor 1:18-22). Paul, defending himself against accusations of being wishy-washy, ties himself into Jesus' eternal "Yes."

He shows how such a tie-in is possible when he reminds his readers, "The one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us in God, He has also put His seal upon us and given the spirit in our hearts as first installment."

If we have God's Spirit, then God is in us. And if we relate to a forgiving God, as both Deutero-Isaiah and Mark attest, then God's Spirit of forgiveness must also be part of us.

As Prof. Zinn said, "Non-violence is always controversial." That's why Deutero-Isaiah, Jesus, Gandhi and King were killed.

It is a plus today to boast that we're not controversial?

(02-17-00)