What is easier to say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee’ or ‘Arise, take up thy bed and walk’?
(St. Matthew ix. 4)
Simon Tugwell reminds us that the one and only comment on prayer that Christ gave to His Church is that if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven. (Matt. vi. 14, Prayer: Living with God, p. 80) We have not received the forgiveness of sins from Our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost if we fail to forgive others. When we do not forgive others, the forgiveness of sins does not govern us from the throne of our hearts. Then, we take it for granted that Our Heavenly Father will forgive us repeatedly and treat forgiveness of sins like some kind of entitlement benefit that we deserve for being card-carrying Christians. But this reveals that we do not treat sin, confession, forgiveness, or Christ’s command to Go and sin no more with much seriousness. Rather than seeing ourselves as those who need forgiveness and must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. ii. 12), we are filled with pride over whatever supposed goodness we possess and are threatened by genuine goodnessfound in others.
So, let us ask ourselves if what stops us from receiving and extending the forgiveness of sins is our own pride? Do pride and hubris erect a barrier to the self-realization that the forgiveness of sins alone leads to new life? Is there an element of immature insecurity that quashes all hope for inner transformation? Does what others think about us fill us with despair over the truth of sin in our lives? Perhaps an impenetrable wall surrounds our past interior trauma to shield us from ourselves? Perhaps we spend our days trying to show the world that we are sane, sound, and successful. But inwardly and spiritually, we are broken, suffering, and enslaved to sin. Pride commands us to put on a good face; so, we move on appearing to be one thing while we are not. Pride tells us that we can hold it all together, fend for ourselves, and do perfectly well without anyone’s help. Yet, when we encounter goodness in others that we do not possess, our pride weakens, security teeters, and self-reliance collapses as we envy that goodness in others that we reckon is beyond our greatest effort to secure. Pride turns into envy. Dorothy Sayers, in her commentary on Dante’s Purgatorio, says this:
The sin of envy always contains an element of fear. The proud man is self-sufficient, rejecting with contempt the notion that anybody can be his equal or superior. The envious man is afraid of losing something by the admission of superiority in others, and therefore looks with grudging hatred upon other men’s gifts and good fortune, taking every opportunity to run them down or deprive them of their happiness. (D.C.: Purg. p. 170)
Envy fears the excellence in other men that threatens and devalues his own. Envy’s thoughts, words, and works aim to destroy his privileged neighbor, depriving him of any goodness. Envy thinks falsely that he can never secure the goodness he lacks, and he is determined that no other man should find it either.
Pride turns into envy and then the anger or wrath that kills the forgiveness of our sins and our forgiveness of others. This is a temptation for us all. Receiving God’s forgiveness of our sins is not easy, especially since our world defines good and evil by the changing and unreliable relative standards of feeling and emotion. Most of us, when left to the devices and desires of our own hearts, measure out forgiveness in so far as it enhances our narcissistic pride. Sometimes, from the perch of moral superiority, we assert with pride that we have forgiven others when they have not wronged us in any way. Their goodness unnerves us, and so we ascribe imagined evil to them. At other times, we claim that forgiveness costs too much because the sin was so great, and so we withhold it, twisting with envy and now even anger that our enemy doesn’t repent! Envy that cannot bear others’ goodness is enraged. If our unforgiveness has hurt another, we bask in pride’s power to enslave. His suffering is therapeutic. But in all three cases, pride and envy combined with anger hurt others because we have never truly discovered the Divine Mercy expressed in the forgiveness of our sins through detachment.
Those who are immersed in the world’s affairs must also learn how to withdraw from it if they would grasp the significance of what they are doing. (The Christian Year in The Times, p. 197) This is spiritual detachment. Detachment enables us to realize that pride, envy, and wrath must be destroyed by Christ’s virtues in this morning’s Gospel lesson.
Behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
(St. Matthew ix. 2)
Jesus is determined to extend the forgiveness of sins to fallen man, rewarding humble faith with true healing. Forgiveness is always the primary end of Christ’s mission to men of humble heart. Humility and meekness are the virtues that stand against all pride, envy, and wrath. Christ comes into the world first to heal the sickness of the soul. As Archbishop Trench remarks
‘Son, be of good cheer’, are words addressed to one evidently burdened with a more intolerable weight than that of his bodily infirmities. Some utterance on his part of a penitent and contrite heart called out these gracious words which follow, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee.’ (Miracles, p. 157)
The man sick of the palsy is more diseased in soul than body. Perhaps he is consumed with pride and enviously begrudges other men’s wholeness. Anger at God would not be surprising. He is so spiritually and physically paralyzed that he cannot ask. Thus, Jesus declares, Thy sins be forgiven thee. (Idem)
The Scribes become unhinged. Behold, certain of the Scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. (Ibid, 3) Sin offends only God; God alone can forgive sin. What they did not see was that God was in Christ, reconciling, the world unto Himself. (2 Cor. v. 19) The Scribes were right if Christ as a mere man imparted forgiveness to another. But they had another problem. Christ’s glory stirred pride, envy, and anger in them as something they thought He could not and did not have because they did not. Again, with Archbishop Trench
Their sins were in that self-chosen blindness of theirs which would not allow them to recognize any glory in Him higher than man’s…and closed their eyes to all in their Scriptures which set Him forth as other than they themselves had resolved He should be. (Miracles: Ch. 9)
Jesus responds, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? (Ibid, 5) Jesus knows there can be no tangible proof for the forgiveness of sins since it is inward, invisible, and spiritual. To be sure, it is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee, than to say, Take up thy bed and walk. But because the Scribes have never known the forgiveness of sins as the gift of God’s love, Jesus heals the man’s body to reveal that forgiveness is Heaven’s power as love. But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith He to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose and departed to his house. (Ibid, 4-7)
Today we learn of the healing power of the love that Christ brings to the man sick of the palsy. Through detachment, we see how Jesus conquers the sin and sickness of the soul. Now we turn to ourselves. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins….(1 St. John i. 9) Repentance is needed since our sinful flesh is always too ready to side with the cruel enemy of our souls. The things of this world press hard upon us, either to terrify us out of our duty, or humor us into our ruin. (Jenks, 221) The Great Physician bids us to search our hearts for our sins and confess them. We must not walk in the vanity of [our] mind[s], having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through…ignorance…because of the blindness of [our] hearts. (Eph. iv. 17, 18) The understanding is darkened when pride, envy, and wrath enslave us. Our Collect for Purityreads Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit….(Collect for Purity) We ask the Holy Spirit to purify not only our words and works, but the thoughts of our hearts. Withdetachment, with humility and meekness, we must see how our pride, envy, and wrath have killed the spirit of God’s goodness and separated us from our neighbors’ hearts. God’s Spirit must cleanse our motivations and intentions. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (ibid, 9)
With detachment, we take a long, hard look at ourselves in relation to God. We must remember that detachment is not necessarily found in the monk or mystic’s cell, cultivating a fugitive and cloistered virtue, potentially absorbing vanity. Vanity is the danger of asceticism. Detachment must give us the mastery of ourselves. (Ibid, p. 198) Detachment is found in the time and space that lead us from God to Jesus Christ. Detachment studies Christ’s parables, miracles, and his unjust and unmerited suffering in death on the Cross. Detachment stops here to find the height, depth, length, and breadth which God’s own Son and Word made flesh endures to save us. Detachment sees that Forgiveness is Divine forth-givingness, the free gift of a life which in the perfection of its spiritual power cleanses a man’s soul from the taint of evil and requickens it with new spiritual energies by which he is freed from sin. This forgiveness is offered to mankind through the Cross. (Ibid, Good Friday, p. 91) With detachment we become forever thankful for the redemption of the world by Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of Grace, and the hope of Glory. (G.T. BCP, p. 19) Detachment then leads to our being renewed in the spirit of [our]mind[s] as we put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. iv. 23, 24) Detachment will give us true liberty in Jesus Christ, the freedom of soul found in the body of the man sick of the palsy, who jumped up, carried his bed, and marched before the gathered Biblical Critics. Because Jesus Christ alone had power on earth to be forgive sins, you and I can be freed from sin and not only forgive but also love all others in Him.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: