Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday of the Paralytic

And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you."

And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, "Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"--He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" (Mark 2:1-12; see also Matthew 9:2-8, Luke 5:17-26)

To prove He has forgiven the paralytic, our Lord heals him. Clearly God does not work a miracle of healing for anyone He has not forgiven! It really is a only matter of which is easier to say. To heal is to forgive. Six of one, half dozen of the other.

The same principle is at work when St. Paul tells the Galatians, (3:21) “If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” To give life is to make righteous, or in other words, to justify. God would never give His own life (His own being the only eternal life) to anyone He has not forgiven.

Therefore, when a Christian sees the blood of Christ pouring forth from the Cross onto the world, understanding that in His Blood is His Life, given for us, what the Christian understands is forgiveness streaming down. To prove He has forgiven us, our Lord sheds upon us the Blood of Immortality. To justify us, He gives us Life. He "was delivered for our offenses [i.e., to free us from their consequences], and was raised again for our justification." (Romans 4:25) If He gives us Life, and it's His own, immortal life He gives, what can the Law do? Of what force is the Law's death sentence against us? Christ has done an end run around it! Or, better, has broken through the scrimmage line to score a touchdown, to bring us all home.

But doesn’t the Law of Moses have to be fulfilled to perfection in order for me to be saved? Yes, and Jesus Christ did that for you. He obeyed in every point unto death – and it does take dying not only to demonstrate perfect obedience, but to elicit it, in practice. "Though He was Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." (Hebrews 5:8) By His perfect obedience, the Law is forever satisfied, on behalf of everyone.

What about all these bad things I’ve done, and all these good things I’ve failed to do? These unworthy thoughts, words, deeds? What about those? Doesn’t God take those into account before simply flooding me with forgiveness? No. Not if, by faith in Him, you repent. To repent means to turn your heart toward God. Having your heart toward God is what He cares about. That was the aim of the Law all along. That’s what all the rules were designed to simulate, to teach us about, to train us toward. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Doesn’t God require payback for all my sins? No. That’s what forgiveness means, that the price is rescinded, the debt is cancelled. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But isn’t that wrong of God, just to forgive sins outright, let people get away with them? Isn’t that condoning evil? No and no.

It is entirely right for God to do whatever He pleases with what (and who) are His. (Matthew 20:15) It is never wrong for God to be more magnanimous that He need be.

And people who repent have not gotten away with a thing, as their bittersweet tears will attest. They have paid a steep price (even if it were a secret, hidden one) all their lives.

And for God to forgive does not mean He is condoning sin, He Who has fought sin tooth and nail (so to speak) since the first sin was committed, who died to conquer death and sin, who vanquished Hades. On the contrary, to forgive sin is a major means of healing it, a giant component of the process of ridding the world of it. Forgiveness is not how sin is overlooked, but how it is effectively fought! Forgiveness, not retaliation.

And the paralytic? That’s you and I, paralyzed in heart, mind, and spirit. And of course that’s Barbara, too, my sister, paralyzed in the flesh the last three months of her life. It’s to all of us He says, “Get up!” Why lie around in sloth, or in despondency, or in despair? “Carry your bed and go Home.”