By Michael Smith
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 2:1-12
1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door, and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves, and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic — 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat, and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus demonstrates his “authority to forgive sins on earth” by performing a miraculous deed of power. “Which is easier,” Jesus asks, “to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk?’”
It is the phrase “authority to forgive sins” that stands out for me as I recall the scene from the Gospel of John on that first Easter evening when the resurrected Jesus stands among his disciples breathing his Holy Spirit upon them as he commissions them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
And the words of absolution of the priest to a penitent in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer come to mind:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive you all your offenses; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (BCP 448)
Clearly, the Church is in the forgiveness business. It is an authority that has been given by God the Father to God the Son and through God the Holy Spirit to us, those who walk as emissaries of Christ on the earth in our own days. How are we doing with that authority? How might we forgive or receive forgiveness today?
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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