For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk?’
I do not really know, Jesus. That is the challenge of our walk of faith, is it not? Forgiveness. To arise, to walk, knowing we are forgiven. It is all too easy a thing to say, ‘I forgive you.’ But I think all of us know that the manifestation of those words in a lived, shared life can feel as daunting and impossible as trying to cure paralysis with a speech act. It is easier to say, ‘I forgive you.’ It is harder to live the sacrifices required of what is said.
The scribes in this morning’s gospel—however swayed by ‘even thinking’ in their hearts—are nonetheless right: true forgiveness—forgiveness of sins, forgiveness of human disintegration—is the property of the divine. It is priceless. It has the power to bring life out of death. But of course the scribes don’t quite see what is in front of them.
Therein lies the miracle of today’s gospel. Yes, a paralytic man regained authority over his limbs, but this is not what amazes the crowds, and it is not what should amaze us. For the healing of the paralyzed man is merely the sign of something much more significant. As with all of Jesus’ miracles, I often have to remind myself that the sign is not itself the thing signified.
When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings. Matthew does not say, ‘who had given such authority to a human being,’ but ‘to human beings.’ Yes, it scandalizes my self-righteousness and my self-pity. In the Spirit, Jesus invites us to participate in God’s forgiveness. To taste in the here and now the fruit of what God has done for us and will eventually accomplish in the fullness of time: reconciliation. I recently learned that the Latin origin of our word “reconcile” contains the word, “cilia” or eyelashes. Re—con—cilia, or to be realigned to another, eyelash to eyelash. Forgiveness that meets us where we are—that risks the vulnerability of gazing eyelash to eyelash.
It is harder to live forgiveness than to simply pronounce an empty pardon. In fact, it takes nothing less than the power that made the whole Creation; that fashions you and me. An empty forgiveness will always paralyze because an empty forgiveness will always be unwilling to make a sacrifice—to meet the other eyelash to eyelash. Only sacrificial love has the power to create the kind of life that will bring freedom from the paralysis of human division and disintegration, life that can truly live forever.
Our baptism into Christ’s dying and rising enables us to share in the glorious pledge of God’s forgiveness by participating in Christ’s eternal act of sacrificial love. Love that will draw us out of the paralysis of suspicion, competition, judgement, and disintegration.
Listen today as Jesus whispers to the heart: Get up, walk. You are forgiven. Go, share the power of that forgiveness, for God has desired to meet you where you are, eyelash to eyelash.
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