Sharing in God's work of forgiveness
7th Sunday in Ordinary Times

Al Cariño
February 23, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

A story is told of a pious woman who dreamed that one of the town's worst scoundrels died and was on his way to heaven. But because of his many sins and his selfishness, the way to heaven wasn't very easy for him. He had to climb a ladder that reached up beyond the clouds and the stars. Worse, as he climbed, he was required to make a chalk mark on each rung of the ladder for each sin he had committed in life.

As the woman's dream was ending, she saw the man coming back down the ladder. "What are you doing?" the woman asked.

"I'm coming down for more chalk," the man replied. "I have run out of chalk because of the many sins in my life. I need more chalk to get into heaven."

Whether this story teaches a lesson or is meant as a joke, it can not be farther from the truth about God's willingness to forgive sins. As we shall see in the cure of the paralytic (Mk. 2: 1-12).

Jesus was in Capernaum, probably at the house of Peter. People got wind of this and so they flocked to the house so that "there was no longer room for them, not even around the door." Jumping at the opportunity, Jesus "preached the word to them." But as He was doing so, a little commotion ensued -- a paralytic was being lowered from the roof. He must heard of Jesus' healing of people in other villages and he was not about to let his chance pass him by. So he insisted that he be brought to Jesus. Four men gladly obliged. Unable to go through the crowd, they opened a hole in the roof from where they lowered their patient.

How did Jesus react at this rude interruption? Being the master Teacher that He was, He made use of what was happening as the subject of His teaching. So capitalizing on "their faith," He said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."

Seated at the front row were the Scribes, the teachers of the law. Knowing their Scriptures, they thought to themselves, "He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?" Knowing what was on their mind, Jesus immediately moved in to question their belief. He asked, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, "Rise, pick up your mat and walk'?" To forgive sins is not visible but making a paralytic walk is. So to show that as Son of Man He had authority to forgive sins, He ordered the paralytic, to "rise, pick up your mat, and go home." Which the paralytic did.

What was the reaction of the crowd? "They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this." But not the Scribes. In fact, this signaled the beginning of their all-out opposition to Jesus which found its culmination in Jesus' trial before Pilate when they revived the accusation of blasphemy against Him. The Scribes' negative reaction on the forgiveness of the paralytic is a good lesson on what closed minds can do to people!

"Who but God alone can forgive sins?" If only God can forgive sins, then this gives an imprimatur to the saying if strictly understood, "To err is human, to forgive is divine." For if this were the case, then we will not have to bother to forgive those who have sinned against us. Which is not the case. For Jesus, forgiveness is not the exclusive domain of God. It is rather the shared duty of all who follow Him: He wants us to imitate God's practice of forgiving sins. Jesus made this explicit when in response to His disciples' request to teach them how to pray, He made sure to include the phrase "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" in what we now know as The Lord's Prayer. Thus Jesus' vigorous opposition to the Scribes' accusation of blasphemy when He forgave the paralytic's sins.

Obviously, to have our sins forgiven is not as difficult as the pious woman's dream about the scoundrel who has to go back to get more chalk. As shown in the case of the paralytic, Jesus forgave his sins even without being asked. He saw his faith, and that was more than enough for Him.

In our own time as it has always been before us, the question is not whether God forgives our sins. He always does as long as we repent for them and make amends. Rather, the question is whether we do forgive others. For have we not often raised the question, "How on earth can I forgive him for what he did to me?" Wrestling with this question can cause us endless agony and sleepless nights: whether to withhold forgiveness until "he realizes how much pain he has caused me" or worse, to devise ways "to get even." As if we ourselves have not offended others and thus are also in need of forgiveness.

No question about it, God has an impeccable track record of forgiving sins. And Jesus's concern is to involve us in this work. The Scribes declined. Hopefully, we will not.