October 3, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today this good news is coming from Matthew 9:1-8.
He entered a boat, made the crossing, and came into his own town. And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings.
This is the same story told by Mark but without some of the rich details such as the man’s friends lowering him through the roof because they couldn’t get through the crowd around the door. There is another significant difference in the two tellings. Matthew makes the point that God gave authority to forgive sins to human beings, not just to Jesus. According to the New Jerusalem Biblical Commentary that is likely a reflection of Matthew’s concern with the faith community that formed after Jesus’ death. However, Matthew didn’t write that the power to forgive was given only to Jesus’ followers or restrict it in any way. He wrote that it was given to human beings — you and me.
Forgiveness is a powerful force. I can fairly easily accept someone’s apology, but I find it really difficult to say, “I forgive you.” I usually just say, “It’s OK” or “Don’t worry about it” or “It’s not a big deal” with a shrug of my shoulders. It is a big deal, though, when someone hurts me and out of love (for God and/or for me) tells me that they are sorry for that. Why is it so hard for me to say, “I forgive you.” I think it’s because doing so releases them from a kind of bondage, releases them from guilt. It forces me to give up my hurt, my desire for revenge, to want to strike back or nurture my grievance. Failing to forgive is a sin on my part and causes the hurt between us to linger and maybe fester. That’s why Matthew tells us that God has given each of us the authority to forgive sins because that is part and parcel of establishing the kingdom of God on earth. Without forgiveness there can be no kingdom — on earth or in heaven.
Last night at the parish mission Fr. Mike talked a bit about confession. If I heard him correctly, he told us to confess to God, to a priest, to a friend in order to become a better person. I hadn’t heard that notion before of confessing to a friend, but I think it goes with this reading. I take it to mean to tell a friend or my spouse that I am sorry when I have hurt him or her even unintentionally and to ask for forgiveness. Maybe even to tell a friend that I am sorry when I think I’m in the right. Brian Walter and I were talking after the mission about surrendering the need to be right. It reminded me of something I was asked a long time ago about driving. Would I rather be right or dead? In other words, would I rather stick to doing something the right and legal way like taking my turn at a stop sign or would I rather give way to the other person’s failure to observe the law and take the risk of an accident and death? The same principle applies to my relationships. Would I rather stick to my claim of being right and damage a relationship or surrender my self-righteousness and ask for forgiveness, swallow my pride perhaps to salvage a relationship?
God gave me the authority and the power to forgive. I can use that power in working toward the kingdom of God, If I don’t, I’m letting things stand as they are, letting the status quo continue. And the status quo isn’t too darn good! It is marked by polarity, by mistrust, by enmity, by discord, by war. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness opens the way forward, the way toward the kingdom of God. It’s a lot to ask and a lot to give. In doing so, I will be glorifying God and I bet I will be struck with awe at what is produced. That’s what God intends — for us to be in awe of our love for one another. It takes love for me to forgive, just as God shows His love in forgiving me. He’s given me the authority and the power. Will I use it?