Wednesday, July 15, 2009

25. Forgiving for Real (Mt 9:1-8)

“We ought to pity and love our enemies rather than hate and detest them, for they heap up evils on themselves but deserve well of us; they provoke God’s anger against themselves, but adorn us with the crown of eternal glory. We ought to pray for them; we should not be overcome by evil.”

- St Antony Mary Zaccaria

Matthew 9:1-8

He got back in the boat, crossed the water and came to his own town. Then some people appeared, bringing him a paralytic stretched out on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven’. And at this some scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming’. Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, ‘Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts? Now, which of these is easier to say, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Get up and walk? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘get up, and pick up your bed and go off home’. And the man got up and went home. A feeling of awe came over the crowd when they saw this, and they praised God for giving such power to men.

Christ the Lord 

Jesus has just exhibited his power over the effects of sin (sickness, natural adversity) and the instigator of evil (the devil). Now St Matthew completes the grand slam by showing how Jesus absolves us from sin itself.

The other miracles could be taken as signs that Jesus is merely a great prophet, but by forgiving sins Christ leaves no room to doubt that he claims to be much more. In the Old Covenant, only God could forgive sins, because every sin was a rebellion against God, a conscious refusal to adhere to the truth of life’s purpose as established by God. Furthermore, in the Old Covenant, this forgiveness could only be obtained through the ritual sacrifices in the Temple stipulated by the Mosaic Law.

When the paralytic comes before Jesus to be healed, the Lord goes to the root of the man’s true need and assures him that his sins are forgiven. The Jewish scholars observing the encounter are immediately suspicious of such a divine claim being made so unceremoniously by an upstart rabbi. Jesus acknowledges (but doesn’t validate) their suspicion, and then performs the miracle to show that instead of being blasphemous, his claim is true. He can’t make the actual forgiveness of sins visible, but he can make the paralytic walk, which certainly shows that he can do what he says – more than enough proof to allay their doubts.

Once again, Christ shows that he is much more than a wise philosopher; he is Emmanuel, God among us - the Lord of life and history.

Christ the Teacher 

St. Matthew points out that Jesus saw the faith of the people who brought the sick man to Jesus, not the paralyzed man’s faith, and thistriggered Christ’s saving action. The paralyzed man was unable to come to Jesus on his own power. Others brought him to the Lord, and the Lord honored their selfless, faith-filled deed. How many people whose souls are paralyzed by sin and doubt need the prayers and charity of faith-filled Christians to bring them into contact with Christ’s saving grace!

St Matthew also subtly explains why the Jewish leaders didn’t recognize Christ as the Messiah (notice that it is precisely here, at the crescendo of the series of miracles, where the opposition between those leaders and Jesus begins). They had already formed an idea of what the Messiah would be, and they left no room for God to outdo their expectations by coming himself. They had closed their minds; they were attached to their own ideas, their own standards, their own limited understanding – they thought they had God all figured out. It is a common failure among people who seem to be experts in religion. They think they know it all, and they end up missing God’s most wonderful surprises. But the humble folk who recognized their own limitations and God’s greatness were open to the awe-inspiring glory of Christ. The arrogant scribes went home angry and unhappy; the humble crowed went home rejoicing.

Christ the Friend

Jesus calls the sick man “my child,” and then happily and generously relieves the greatest burden of his life – the gnawing guilt of his violated conscience.

How glad Christ is to welcome us into his family! How eager he is to forgive us, to renew us, to enlighten and strengthen our anxious and tired souls! All we have to do is come to him with faith and admit our needs, our helplessness, our sins. The Tabernacle, an ongoing appointment that Christ never misses; the confessional, a failsafe loving embrace and perpetual fresh start; the Gospels, a fountain of truth and grace that flows without respite – a Christian can find peace of heart wherever he turns, if only he doesn’t turn away from Christ.

Jesus: Come to me and I will heal you, I will set you free. Come to me in the Tabernacle, in all my sacraments, in the inspired word of the Bible! Come to me when you are filled with joy, as well as when you are crushed with troubles! When you turn to me in your weakness and acknowledge in all humility your need, then my mercy can make you walk once more, can make your heart resound with true peace and joy. Let me reach into the deepest recesses of your soul, bringing light to the hidden crevices carved by sin.

Christ in My Life 

The world is full of so many promises, Lord. So many gurus and life coaches and therapists promise to show the way to peace and wholeness. But can they forgive sins? Only you can reach into the depths of my soul; only you can see even deeper than I can; only you can heal me and cleanse me and give me a new start. Thank you, Lord, for coming to forgive my sins and for giving me a new start, as often as I need one…

Certainly you have more that you want to do in me and through me. I don’t want to hinder you by stubbornly sticking to my own desires and plans if you are leading me along new paths. Your will, Lord, is beyond my comprehension; your plan is greater than I can imagine. Guide me, as you have promised to do, in spite of my selfishness and arrogance. Teach me to be humble, so I can be filled with awe and joy in the face of your wonderful deeds…

What do I enjoy most and value most about being a Christian and a member of your Church? So many things, Lord. Let me savor them… Thank you for those gifts, Lord. I know that your love for me is as vast as the heavens, though at times it’s hard for me to accept. I want to use your gifts and rejoice in them. Teach me, Lord, to do your will…

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

To learn more, or purchase “The Better Part – A Christ Centered Resource for Personal Prayer,” click HERE.

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