And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” 7 And he stood up and went to his home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.
Forgiveness is central to the season of Lent. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian proclamation. For God so loved the world, the gospel of John says, that God sent his only son, whom John the baptist called the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Sin and forgiveness. Today we have a story that touches on both, but in a very unique way. This is a story that three of the four evangelists tell, but only Matthew includes this phrase: “
“When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.”
Expiation of sin was a complicated process in first century Judaism. Based upon the nature of the sin, there were various behaviors and sacrifices necessary. Controlling the process were the chief priests and the scribes who operated as the intermediaries between the sinner and God. One of the scandals Jesus generated for these religious officials was the notion that forgiveness was now a direct transaction between God and sinner without the elaborate mechanism of the temple, a mechanism that contained a financial element as the people were required to purchase items necessary for certain sacrifices. Here the people are marveling that, not only does Jesus presume to forgive sins but does so as a human being, and not as one with temple authority.
What a powerful thing it is not only to forgive sin but to loosen people from their spiritual paralysis. There are so many whose self-perception of sin and deficiency robs them of their full humanity. We know not what “sin” this man may have committed but that is part of the point. As a cripple he was unclean and separated from the larger community. Here, forgiveness is not the wiping away of some bad action. Here forgiveness as the declaration that the man is no longer unclean, no longer separated from the larger community. His separation from worship has been removed. His paralysis is gone. In this story sin is a condition in which one’s full humanity is denied, one’s essential expression of self is discouraged, or one whose victimization has been confused with guilt. Surely God forgives. Surely God invites us to live into our full humanity as children of God. We need to place guilt and shame where it belongs, on the systems that discriminate against people simply for expressing who they are. This power of forgiveness, this power of acceptance, this power that liberates, has been given to human beings and is especially incumbent upon those of us who follow Jesus—who sets the example.
Which is easier? To take up the mat and walk or to receive forgiveness. According to the story they are one and the same. We walk into the fullness of our humanity precisely because we are forgiven. We are accepted.