The Power To Forgive!!
Isaiah 43:18-25; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12
The other night I was watching TV for a while and I happened to pay particular attention to one commercial. It went something like this. Mother is doing her wash and the little daughter comes running in. Calling attention tot he matching polka-dot dresses the little girl notes that the dresses are no longer the same as evidenced by the big stain on her dress. Mother frets and makes a remark to the effect that it is a color and permanent press--"How shall I ever get it clean?" The little girl says very sadly, "I'm sorry!" To which the mother replies, "I think I can use (X brand bleach) and it will come out clean." The request for forgiveness is ignored.
In my own life the same has been true many times. As a child I remember being told to go tell some that I was sorry for this or sorry for that. After some resistance I go. As I recall the response was similar to that of the commercial. My "I'm sorry" was answered by a laugh, a chuckle, or at best "That's OK. don't worry about it." I used to think, "What's ok? To be feeling sorry?" Or "Don't worry about what? About being sorry?" At any rate another request for forgiveness has been ignored.
I've done the same thing. Many times I have told people that asked for my forgiveness, "Forget it" or "Don't worry about it!" or "Hey, that's ok!" or some other similar response that just laughs off the real request behind the "I'm sorry." Again, a request for forgiveness is ignored.
I imagine that each of you had a similar experience.
In this day nad age we take forgiving and forgiveness so lightly. We find it easier to ignore the request for forgiveness than to offer the words of reconciliation. We find it easier to laugh it off than we do to take the request of our neighbor seriously. We find it easier to flow along with the trend than to be reconciled. I think if we listen to those around us, our spouses, our children, our friends, our co-workers that we would hear plenty of "I'm sorries!". We would hear plenty of requests for reconciliation, for forgiveness, for renewal. And yet we chose to ignore them. We pass them off as illegitimate, as un-founded.
We find it easier to ignore such needs for forgiveness than to risk ourselves as agents of God and Christ to forgive.
It is with this in mind that we come to our lessons for today. I find it no wonder that they are so hard to understand. We really have nothing in our contemporary experience that will begin to correspond with the seriousness that God used when responding to requests for forgiveness. We have nothing that corresponds to the seriousness with which the scribes approached Jesus when he healed the paralytic. They saw it as blasphemy that Jesus should take it upon himself to forgive sins--a power that only God could claim. In face, it is this very charge that led to his death.
Even though it is hard for us to understand, Jesus and God did not ignore the importance of the forgiveness of sins. They did not pass off people with a "That's ok" or "Don't worry about it". They did not ignore the "I'm sorries" or the"Please forgive me's". Rather they recognized the sins and brought forgiveness.
Note, for instance, the words of the prophet Isaiah:
"The Lord God says: YOu did not call upon me; You did not offer me service; You did not bring me offerings; but rather you burdened me with your sins. But I, I alone, am he, who for his own sake wipes out your sins, and remembers them no more. (Isaiah 43:25) God says that no matter what the sin God offers the words of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Note, too, Jesus in our gospel. Jesus is preaching to the crowd in his home. The crowd was so large that the four people carrying the paralytic couldn't get in so they let him down through the roof. Confronted with this situation right in the midst of perhaps, his sermon, Jesus didn't say, "get out" or "you're in my way." He didn't say, "That's ok" or "Don't worry about it" or "forget it" or even rise up and walk. What Jesus said first of all was, "Your sins are forgiven.
Imagine the beauty of those words to the ears of the paralytic. A man who couldn't walk who couldn't do for himself. A man in those times probably thought that his condition was the result of sin. Such beauty those few words must have had. "Your sins are forgiven.
God took the sins of the Israelites seriously.
God took the sins of the paralytic seriously.
God takes our sins just as seriously. The purpose of sending Jesus into the world was precisely for the forgiving of our sins.
In the process of his life and healing, forgiving sins and in his final act of death on the cross, Jesus spoke the final words of forgiveness in a way that they have never been spoken since, and in a way they will never be spoken again.
Our sins have not been ignored. God did not pretend that they did not exist. He recognized that we sin and that he forgives us. This is perhaps what is shocking in our readings. We are shocked because someone does take our sins seriously. We are shocked because we are wroth dying for. We are shocked that we should take so seriously the sins of those around us.
I know a young man who was in the hospital suffering form some complications of his paralysis This young man was very depressed, feeling very guilty about his life. A few years earlier he had been in an accident which had left him in his present physical condition. He felt that this accident was a result of his own neglect and he felt very guilty that this had happened, leaving him short of many of his goals, unable to participate in any of the things that he had aspired to do--hobbies, sports, etc. He felt so unsure of forgiveness that at the time he felt like taking his life. Counselors, psychiatrists, doctors nurse,s and even chaplains had all tired to assure him of forgiveness, had tried to use all the word they knew. But it was to no avail. But it took only a few words from an insightful friend to relieve this young man of all that many others had been struggling with. The friend said simply, "I know you feel sorry about what has happened. As I know that my sins are forgiven, so I assure you that your sins are also forgiven." This was the turning point in the young man's life. The forgiveness of sins turned his emotional state around and today he is very active in institutions working one on one with persons suffering the same paralysis as he. He is encouraging them, he helps them, he gives advice, and the forgives sins.
Our disability and paralysis is obviously not as great as that of this young man. But maybe we are cripples mentally, spiritually, in our relationships with others, in the demands of our job, in our families, in our values, or in our lack of faith. God speaks through his Son, Jesus Christ. He has promised to forgive sins and the same words spoken to the paralytic and the young man in the hospital are spoken to us. "Your sins are forgiven. Rise! Walk!!" Life is renewed within us to go out and heal others in his name.
Tom O. Miller
St. Mark's Lutheran, Bloomfield,NE