Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Who Can Forgive Sins But God Alone?

One of the best ways to get to know someone is to ask questions. You might ask them about were they're from or what they do for a living. You might ask their opinion or for their help. Listening to their answers will teach you more than just the facts they give. The way they answer will often reveal more than what they say. Our questions reveal us as well. Do we ask with interest or boredom? Are we inviting or challenging?

If you've been in any bookstore recently, you've probably noticed many books that question the Church and the Scriptures, even books that question the existence of God, with titles like "The Lost Gospels", "Misquoting Scripture", and "The God Delusion". Two favorite targets of these books are the Bible and the Catholic Church. One tactic is to claim that the books we have in the Bible are full of error or that books that the author thinks should have been included were denied a place in the Scriptures and that this was done deliberately by the Church. If the Church and the Scriptures can be successfully challenged, their authority can be called into question.

It seems only fair that if people want to question the Church and the Bible, the Church through the Bible ought to be able to question them! Not surprisingly there are several questions the Bible asks us. Are you willing to answer them?

Who Can Forgive Sins But God Alone?

The Gospel of St. Mark (Mk 2:1-12) tells us of a paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus for healing by four of his friends. In fact, they did some home remodeling so they could reach where Jesus was! Seeing this display of their faith, his response to the paralyzed man was “Your sins are forgiven.” (Mk 2:5)

This upset the religious leaders who were there. They accused Jesus of blasphemy! He had told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Their challenge was “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7)

Like many today, they asked the right question but had the wrong answer! They thought that Jesus was blaspheming by telling the man that his sins were forgiven. “Who is this man to speak like this?” they asked. (Mk 2:7) If Jesus was only a man, they were right to accuse him; but what if he was also God?

Jesus knew better than to get into a theological arguement with these Scribes. So he asks them “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic ‘your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Rise, take up you pallet and walk?’” (Mk 2:9) I am sure he paused to let his question sink in. The Scribes must have thought “Hmm...it’s easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’. The man wouldn’t look any different. But if he was told to walk and didn’t, then…Wait, what’s Jesus saying now?”

Jesus wanted them to understand clearly what he was about to do. Of course he was going to heal the paralyzed man. But Jesus wanted them all, the Scribes, the crowd and most of all the paralyzed man to realize what the healing would mean. It wasn’t only a physical healing; it was a sign of who Jesus was. He healed the man so that they would “know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man “Rise, take up your pallet and go home.” (Mk 2:10-11). When the man got up, picked up his pallet and “went out before them all” he did so forgiven of his sins!

The Scribes were right to ask “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But Jesus claim to do so was not blasphemy. He forgave the man’s sins and healed his paralysis. If Jesus had only healed his paralysis, the man would have still been paralyzed by his sin, unable to approach God freely. If Jesus had only forgiven his sins, there would be no visible sign that his life had been changed. Jesus healed the man’s body so that everyone would know that he also had forgiven the man’s sins by his own authority. It was a sign to them, and to us, that he was God.

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