(A little "sanitive lingo" for Pastor Weedon! :-)
Healing by Forgiving
The Bible commentator F. Dale Brunner summed up our Gospel reading quite well. He said, “To forgive a person is to enable a person to move.” Today Jesus shows us how He forgives us and heals us from our paralysis of sin. That authority to forgive sins is given by God to His Son, and by Christ Jesus to His Church on earth. Yes, forgiveness of sins happens right here on earth, and God has given such authority to men.
As Jesus sits in a house teaching God’s Word, the crowd around Him packs the house, eagerly hearing His words. When four friends bring their paralyzed pal to hear Jesus and be healed by Him, they cannot get in to see Jesus. So they go up to the roof, tear a hole in the roof, and lower their friend on his cot right in front of Jesus. Remember, the paralyzed man cannot move. He cannot by his own reason or strength come to Jesus Christ.
But Jesus does notice the faith of the man’s four friends. They are the Church. They know that Jesus heals by forgiving, and they want Jesus to grant His forgiving healing to their friend. Now, that’s true evangelism! They bring another person paralyzed by sin into the presence of Jesus to be healed by His forgiveness. And Jesus does just that. He heals the man by saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” That’s it.
That’s it?! Where’s the actual healing? Doesn’t Jesus know that first you take care of the physical problem, and then, only after that, can you address the spiritual problem? Doesn’t He know that you can’t get too spiritual with people too quickly? Doesn’t He know that you have to lure people in by some other enticement, and then, only then, can you give them the real stuff about Jesus and His Gospel?
Actually, here’s what Jesus knows. He knows that any physical problem, any mental problem, any psychological, emotional, or social problems, are merely the symptoms. The real root disease is the paralysis of sin and death, the paralysis of being separated from God. Jesus also knows that His forgiveness is the only real cure for that paralysis. “To forgive a person is to enable a person to move.” Jesus knows that when you start with and focus on forgiving sins, that’s the best way to help and heal other people.
When Jesus freely and fully forgives the paralyzed man, the religious people have a fit. They grumble among themselves. “This man is blaspheming,” they say. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk. 2:7). You see, all they could detect in Jesus was a mere Man. Oh, they were fine with God forgiving sins up in heaven. But here on earth? A human being actually forgiving and absolving another human being? Well, that was just out of the question! “Only God can forgive sins!” they would say.
That’s the way we work too, isn’t it? We look at our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church, and they practice that thing called “going to Confession.” We squirm at the notion of confessing our sins to another human being. We revolt at the notion of another human being saying, “I forgive you your sins,” especially in a private, person-to-person setting. But when we squirm and revolt, remember that we squirm and revolt against Jesus and His healing of forgiveness. When we squirm and revolt, we merely show our paralysis—our paralysis of sin, our paralysis of pride. We are so paralyzed by being curved in on ourselves that confessing our sins seems so repulsive.
When St. Augustine was near death, he begged one of his friends to paint on the wall opposite his bed the words of Psalm 32: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1-2). Ah, there’s nothing more precious than clinging to God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus! Augustine knew it. The paralyzed man knew it too.
When Jesus forgives and heals the paralyzed man, His healing also sends a message. If the Son of Man can heal – and people knew He could – then it proves that He can also forgive sins on earth. God truly has given such authority to the Man Christ Jesus!
So Jesus asks the religious types: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? At first we might say that saying “Your sins are forgiven” is easier. After all, when we hear those words we don’t see any physical or social change. Perhaps we get used to hearing them, and we don’t treasure them. Perhaps we tune them out because we hear them so often. Truth be told, we’d rather see that other person shape up his/her act before we forgive yet again. That’s our paralysis. At least if someone says, “Rise and walk,” we can see if it works. If the man gets up and walks, then we know we have a great healer in our midst. If nothing happens, then we know we have a quack.
But is forgiveness really that easy? We might want to say, “Pastor, Jesus is God, and God can forgive.” But the religious types only saw a Man. Besides that, what really brings our forgiveness? Is it the fact that Jesus is true God? If so, then why did He choose to suffer and die such a bloody death? No, forgiveness is very hard! It comes at a great price. It cost Jesus His very life. He suffered rejection and torture. He suffered the paralysis of hanging lifeless on the Cross and lying dead in the tomb. That’s what brings forgiveness. God in Christ loved you, His neighbor, by dying for you to forgive you. And then, on the third day, He rose again to bring His life, His healing, His immortality to light.
That forgiveness heals your paralysis. And now Jesus gives you, His Church, that authority to forgive sins. “To forgive a person is to enable a person to move.” Jesus authorizes you, His healed, forgiven people, to heal others by proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness to them.
And just how does Jesus dispense His cross-won forgiveness? The same way He did for the paralyzed man. He speaks His words of Absolution. Many people think that Lutherans don’t “believe in” Confession and Absolution. Actually, I say it’s the best-kept secret among Lutherans. Yes, we Lutherans actually do teach and prize “going to Confession.” You see, when you go to Confession, you receive the precious treasure and healing of Jesus’ cross-won forgiveness.
The Small Catechism (V:1) says it this way: “What is Confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” Our Augsburg Confession (XI:1) says it this way: “It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse.”
So, when was the last time you went to Confession? When was the last time you sought out your pastor to hear your confession and to pronounce Christ’s forgiveness to you? I know, you can certainly confess your sins privately at home. That’s true, but what do you hear in response? Remember, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The paralyzed man did not just imagine himself healed. He heard the words of Jesus. Those words forgave and healed him. Such is the authority that Jesus gives to His Church and her ministers. As the hymn says,
“The words which absolution give
Are His who died that we might live;
The minister whom Christ has sent
Is but His humble instrument.
"When ministers lay on their hands
Absolved by Christ the sinner stands;
He who by grace the Word believes
The purchase of His blood receives.” (LSB 614:5-6). Amen.