TRINITY XIX – Salus populi
Introit: I am the saving health of my people, saith the Lord: out of whatsoever tribulation they shall cry to me, I will hear them: and I will be their Lord for ever. Ps. (78) Hear my law, O my people: incline your ears unto the words of my mouth.
Collect: O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee. Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel. (Isaiah 44.21-23)
Gradual: (Ps 141) Let my prayer be set forth in thy sight, O Lord, as the incense. V. Let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.
Epistle: Brethren: This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4.17-32)
The Prayer Book Reformers extended the length of the Epistle as appointed in the Missal. The original Epistle began with the words, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind…” and ended at “…to give to him that needeth.”
Alleluia. O give thanks unto the Lord, and call upon his name: tell the people what things he hath done. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And, 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. And, behold, certain of the Scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus, knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say: Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Arise, and walk? 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. But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, who had given such power unto men. (St Matthew 9.1-8)
“Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”
The dispute in the Gospel is over Jesus’ authority to forgive. “And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man speaks blasphemy!’” These experts in the Torah heard Jesus’ statement, and immediately concluded that Jesus was claiming an authority that infringed on God’s rights. “Who can forgive sins but God?” Our Lord knew their thoughts, and asked, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” This is a question that cuts both ways, depending upon how you think about it. On the one hand, it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because no one can prove what has actually happened. We don’t have a “sin detector” to verify whether the forgiveness pronounced has taken or not. But when one has said, “Rise and walk,” … either the paralytic gets up and walks, or he doesn’t. There is empirical evidence. However, there is another way of thinking about the question, one which brings us to a much deeper significance. It is actually easier to say, “Rise and walk” than it is to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” The reason being that sin is the root cause of all that is wrong in the world. Every physical ailment finds its source in the sin that has warped and twisted our bodies and souls, and all of creation, ever since the Fall. Physicians and therapists can heal a person’s body, but they can never remove or cure that root cause.
And this was what Jesus came into the world to address—to offer Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice that allows us to stand before God because our sins have been forgiven. And then He did something no other sacrifice had ever done or ever could do. He rose up and walked, and returned to His House. As true God and true man, He emerged from the tomb having conquered that ancient sin, with a transformed humanity that can never die again, and over which sin can no longer have dominion. He inaugurated the complete renewal of humanity and creation that will undo everything that sin has marred. His ministry of miracles and healing were merely demonstrations that He had come to destroy that root cause. And it is because Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God that He has the authority to forgive sins. And that authority is His because He is the one who Himself has died for the sins of the whole world. So immediately after asking His question, Jesus declared, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”— then addressing the paralytic—“Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.” And immediately the man rose and went home. He was truly and entirely healed. Jesus is showing us that the man’s paralysis is a symptom of a much deeper problem.
Sin, death, disease, and destruction do not reflect God’s intention for the world. As St Paul says:
“I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth eagerly for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in this hope.” (Rom. 8.18-24)
St Paul says, “The creation was subjected to futility,” and, “The whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs, until now.” Why is the creation subjected to futility, such that we have disease and disasters great and small, and death lurking in our bodies even at this very moment? Because of sin. Sin is the root cause of our troubled bodies, our troubled minds and spirits, our troubled relationships, even of our troubled environment. Not specific sins, but the general condition of sin. Sin had its beginnings, and still continues, in man’s departing from God’s Word and going his own way, in seeking to dethrone God and crown himself king—“Ye shall be as gods.” (Gen. 3.5) And redemption and renewal come only through the saving work of Christ.
Jesus doesn’t ignore the man’s paralysis. He addresses its root cause. It is all one. Sin and death hang together; so conversely, forgiveness and life hang together. So when Jesus forgives the man his sin, He is already addressing his paralysis. All the difficulties we experience are but symptoms of a deeper malady. Healing cannot take place until we address the sin problem, which only Christ can resolve. And everything we experience in this life as Christians should drive us more and more to seek forgiveness of sin.
Consider the words of the Collect, “…without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts …” Without God’s help through the Holy Spirit, we are not able to understand what we need to do to be right with God and to follow His Will. This theme is continued and amplified in the Epistle, where St Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, and alienated from the life of the God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” God begins His work of healing in us, and then, led by the Spirit, we are drawn away from the deeds of the flesh. This is what St Paul addresses: “Put off your old self.” He is basically saying that we should not do as the world does or look to society, or within ourselves, for guidance. If we use these as a moral compass, nothing good will come out of it. We must open our hearts and let Christ guide our thoughts and actions—to make His Way our way, so that we are in alignment with Him, and act as He would have us act. We must begin to live our lives anew, to leave off the old sinful ways and thoughts, and start afresh by being honest and even-tempered, working hard, speaking and acting in kindness, and forgiving as we would have God forgive us. St Paul argues for the completeness of our Christian conversion. It is not enough merely to stop lying; we must become truthful, making it a way of life. It is not simply a matter of refraining from stealing; we are to be generous to others. It is not enough just to be forgiven, we must become forgiving. We must both put off and put on.
If we but hold fast to these principles, we will find they not only benefit ourselves, but they will help the people around us. And that is what the Gospel is about: spreading the Good News and helping others to become followers of Christ, and to know true healing and true freedom. And gradually, as the work of the Spirit spreads, it will affect the farther corners of the world. But it will never be perfect in this life, so we must continually return to God’s forgiveness: “Lord, have mercy,” “… forgive us our trespasses…”
Unforgiven sin, whether that which we have committed or that which we have suffered, imprisons us in the past. We cannot live and walk in the present while crippled, paralyzed, and imprisoned in our past. Life, peace, happiness, stability, community, marriage, friendship—are all destroyed by unforgiven sin. And it contributes to a hardness of heart. We become people of bitterness, hatred, and anger, of clamour, slander, and malice. We prove ourselves to be servants of Satan and children of the devil. When we carry a grudge, it hurts us more than anyone else. When we let the sun go down on our anger, we may find ourselves the ones without sleep. As Jesus shows His divinity and power supremely in forgiveness, so we prove ourselves the children of God when we forgive one another. In kindness, tender-heartedness and forgiveness, God is known and glorified.
The paralysis is a sign of a deeper need for healing. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to cure our symptoms, He came to save us. What is it that is confining you to your bed? What cripples you, paralyzes you? Our sins are like chains—weights we drag around with us. We come to Him looking for this or that, but He sees into our hearts and gives us what we truly need. “Take heart, my son, my daughter; your sins are forgiven.” And this forgiveness is liberating. Crippling guilt is overcome, our chains are loosed and we are free. The burden of guilt has been taken away by this man, who took it upon Himself, praying, “Father, forgive them.” This is what the Gospel is all about. And like the crowd in today’s reading we marvel, and glorify God.
Which is easier: to forgive or to heal? Only Jesus knows, for only He can do both. But Jesus healed the paralytic to prove that He had the authority to forgive the man’s sins. He forgives our sins, as well. We become children of God, we are made whole, only by the healing forgiveness of Christ, won upon the cross. “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” Our whole life is lived in those words, until that day when the Lord will come to you whom He has forgiven, lying in an earthen bed, and say, “Arise from your bed, and go into the house I have prepared for you.”
“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee. Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.”
Collect: O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive: Receive our humble petitions; and though we be tied and bound with the chains of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.