Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Which Is Easier To Say?

Matthew 9: 1-8

1. Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

When this is discussed, even by preachers, I think it is sometimes gotten backwards.  Because the Pharisees think he is blaspheming, we are reminded that whatever miracles a man might accomplish by whatever means, only God himself can forgive one's sins. So saying "Your sins are forgiven" should be the harder thing to say.  Only God can do that, right?

Not so fast.  It might be much harder to do the forgiving, but it is much easier to say that, because there are no external signs.  Anyone can say "Your sins are forgiven." I knew an atheist psychologist decades ago who would say that all the time, especially to religious people.  It is much harder to say "Get up, take your mat, and go home" even though it is a lesser event, because if it doesn't work you are immediately exposed.

1 comment:

Texan99 said...

We live in a culture in which there's a strong background assumption that of course sins are forgiven. We may not really believe in sin, but there's a comforting assumption that if those silly old rules really do apply, someone's already publicized a blanket amnesty, which we'll look into if we're held to account and can't ignore the issue any more. A lot of us run into trouble when we first actually feel acute guilt and remorse; suddenly the pro-forma idea of forgiveness doesn't seem so comforting. Lewis warned against this: he said if you only feel unforgiveable when you're truly troubled by a wrong you've done, it just means you never before genuinely believed what you were doing was wrong, and it only shows everything you said about forgiveness before was humbug. It's not supposed to be like breathing a sigh of relief because you're officially excused from a speeding fine when you really didn't think speeding a little was wrong anyway. It's more like understanding with a shock that you drove drunk and killed a child, but Someone has made it possible to move on with your life without prison or suicide.

But 2,000 years ago, the get-out-of-jail-free card wasn't universally accepted. Christ arrived and claimed the authority to forgive sin, really and truly, just as people had often desperately hoped God on High would do if they just hit on the right combination of good living and ritual practice. People were horrified by Christ's claim, because only God could do this. A man who showed up claiming the same authority really looked like a blasphemer, unless they could wrap their minds around the fact that he was not just another man, but God himself or at a minimum God's son, an emissary quite unlike any other man.

It makes sense to me that the story says: "I'm telling you I can forgive sins. If you don't believe Me yet, maybe I can convince you by showing you that I can heal a paralytic. Boy, is it hard to get your attention. What do you need, an eclipse? Parting the Red Sea? My own resurrected body?"

Any ordinary person can walk around claiming to forgive sins, or (more likely these days) issue a general reassurance that there's not really any such thing as sin that clings to you and ruins your life. But people are likely to notice that the mere words didn't do anything about the remorse and ruin in their lives.