October 14, 2012 (inspired by an Evanson sermon)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What Jesus said to the paralytic caused real concern to the Scribes present in that house. They took Jesus’ words at face value. This fact can seem strange to our modern, discerning ears. We are tempted by our surroundings to be people who think that the nature of religious speech is generic, not to be taken too literally, if it would cause offence. When we hear pastors, preachers, or teachers, we filter their words through our own understanding of how things are and try to unite their thoughts with our thoughts. If they say something different from what we think, we just chalk it up to the words not meaning exactly what they say. We think that we must somehow find the ‘truth,’ which lies beyond the words. It is expected that religious words should be general, vague and all-inclusive, because we don’t want to face differences in theological thought. We want it all to be the same, because then we don’t have to go through the pain of telling someone their wrong. And maybe more importantly, no one can tell us that we’re wrong.
The Scribes in the house with Jesus that day knew at once that He was not speaking in vague spiritual generalities. He was being specific. He meant what He said. He called those who heard Him into question: their faith, the way they practiced that faith, and the ideas, words, and acts which flowed forth from what they believed. What Jesus said cut through to their hearts, and made them anything but comfortable and content. With Jesus there is right and wrong, black and white, sin and forgiveness. There is no gray.
You would do well to listen to Jesus and to take Him at His Words. Our Lord said to the paralytic: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” “You are let loose from your sins.” What He says is what we call the Absolution.
An Absolution is not a pardon, as though He were saying that this man is excused from what he has done and been. An Absolution is not an acquittal, as though He were saying that this man was not really guilty, or that he was somehow not responsible. And He certainly is not saying that whatever wrong he has been or done is not to be taken seriously, and that he should simply ‘forget it’ or ‘learn to live with it.’ When you and I speak of forgiveness, one or another of these notions is what we usually have in mind. Just think for a minute how you responded the last time someone apologized for what they had done or said that hurt you. You probably told them to forget about it, that it was not all that serious, that the effect of their action was not that significant. You probably said words like “that’s o.k.” even when you knew that it wasn’t “o.k.” You may have said, “it’s no big deal,” when you knew it was a big deal to you. That is not Absolution, it’s not forgiveness. Forgiveness is costly to give, because it gets to the heart of the matter. But what we say and give costs us nothing, because we don’t really mean it. It’s cheap and easy.
Jesus forgives. Real forgiveness is costly, it’s a matter of sin and death. Our lives are never the same when we have forgiveness. Jesus takes the sin of the sinner upon Himself and lets it do its deadly work to Him. Your sins are forgiven when they are put to death in Christ.
Jesus absolves the paralytic. He does not forgive him for being a paralytic, as though that were the sin, or as though it were our offense against God that our bodies are weak and infirm and our minds are not all-wise and all-knowing. The paralytic is more than a paralyzed man: he is a sinner, just as, whatever else may be true about you and me, we are sinners whose greatest need is not the healing of our bodies, the mending of our marriages, or the reconciliation of our relationships with our parents or our children. Our greatest need is the forgiveness of our sins. That’s the heart of the matter, and Jesus always sees through to the heart.
Jesus gave an Absolution; so why did the Scribes grumble? Because it is blasphemy for man to presume to do what only God-made-man can do. Only God-made-man can bear and carry our sins. Only He can carry and endure the full force of all that we have thought, said, done, and left undone. Only the Messiah can carry the great injury that we have done to ourselves and to each other by breaking the Commandments. You do not honor and love your parents and other authorities. You begrudge your superiors. You hurt people in your thoughts, words, and actions. You commit adultery in what you say and do. Sexual promiscuity, abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, and gluttony will never be acceptable in God’s sight no matter how acceptable it is in yours.
The weight of your sin can only be born on the cross. A man born from Adam could not hold up under that weight, so God became man. God, apart from the flesh could not pay the penalty in your place. Only God in the flesh can bear that weight and pay the consequence for your sins. So it was necessary for Jesus to come. It was necessary for Him to live, to suffer, and to die. He came in His Incarnation, in our flesh and blood, to be the Messiah, the Redeemer, on whom all your sins were laid. This is the cost for true Absolution. Saying “I forgive you” is not an empty phrase. It’s a phrase rich in your Savior’s blood. It cost Him dearly, but He paid the price willingly. He not only forgives your sins, but makes it possible for you to forgive those around you in His Name. Nothing heals the body, mind, and spirit like the words of Absolution. They have power, because Jesus gives them power. And yes, He has given such power to men.
Who can believe that God is so good, so merciful, so long-suffering, so kind and gracious as He is? The Scribes could not. But the paralytic and his friends could. It’s what drove them to Jesus in the first place. They had faith that God was good in Jesus. And what Jesus says to the paralytic, He has said to you already in your Baptism. “Son, your sins are forgiven.” If you are a son, then you are also an heir of all that Christ has won. God’s forgiveness belongs also to you. You can distribute and give it as freely as He does. Those three little words—I forgive you—can heal family feuds, hurting marriages, damaged friendships, and broken homes. They can heal the people giving them and the people receiving them.
Jesus speaks them to you today in this Divine Service. We are about to receive forgiveness in His body and blood in the sacrament. It’s what drove you here in the first place. And soon, in His time, He will call you to rise from your bed and to go to your heavenly home. Soon all of your physical infirmities will be taken away and you will again be whole and perfect. The importance of this Divine Service to which you have come is that it is here and now that He speaks and invites you to receive the forgiveness He won for you. He came to give it because He loves you.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
Rev. Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Jesus has the ability to see through the smoke and mirrors of pretense and felt needs. There isn’t a false front, a forced façade, or a fake smile that Jesus cannot penetrate. He looks into the heart of a man and sees through to the root of a problem.
Jacob was running for his life. His brother was plotting to kill him. What good was the blessing and the family inheritance if he were killed without an heir. He mother told him to run far, far away; away from his inheritance, away from his family, and away from the birthright. When he came near to Haran and bedded down for the night,
The earthly symptoms are not the more dire. They are not the most difficult thing to re-create. The heart of man is harder. It takes blood.
Jacob’s family problems are not the issue.
The Scribes ponderings
The Paralytic’s palsy.