The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
19th Sunday after Trinity 2014
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
19th Sunday after Trinity 2014
October 19, 2014
“Matthew 9:5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?”
Have you ever witnessed a public scandal? Have you ever heard someone say something so outrageous that it took your breath away? In short, have you ever heard something that literally shook you to the roots?
We have an example of that in today’s Gospel. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says something that shakes the scribes to their very roots. Recall that these men were the ones who had devoted their very lives to the preservation of the Law. The scribes were in charge of copying the Talmud and the Torah, all without a single mistake. In addition, they would make pronouncements based on the Jewish Scriptures, always with an eye on complete compliance with the Law.
Now, here comes into their midst a seemingly simple rabbi from Nazareth who says, Matthew 9:2: “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”The sheer audacity of the statement must have been most upsetting and unsettling to them. How dare he say such a thing? What a scandalous thing to say! Imagine how you would feel. Let’s say a person walks into your office or place of business and presumes to know everything about what you are doing, and then makes a pronouncement that strikes at the very root of our profession. In other words, the very boldness and audacity of the statement makes your jaw drop.
This is exactly what Christ did in this situation. Note, Christ did not merely heal the man and send him on his way. That would have been too easy (for him) and would not have provided the witness that He wanted at that time. After all, our Lord had been doing miracles for some time now and his fame would have spread far and wide, else why would the men come to Him?
For example, in the Book of Matthew up to this point, Christ has healed the leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and the demoniac. In addition, he rebuked the storm on Lake Genessaret and astonished his own disciples. These, of course, are only the documented miracles and healings. There were no doubt hundreds of others in addition to these. Thus, the healing of the man with the palsy was not the question.
Christ wanted to make a statement about himself, in such a way that told the scribes and Pharisees who He was without an overt claim made by himself. After all, a self-proclaimed prophet or messiah is usually met with extreme cynicism, and even scorn.
Christ’s intent was not to talk about himself. Instead, Jesus constantly provided signs which pointed to His Lordship. For example, the entire Book of John is constructed around signs, all of which point to Christ. With the idea of signs in mind, let us look at this particular one.
Once again, note that Christ did not merely say to the man, “Arise, take up thy bed and go unto thine house.” Although this was the outcome of the event, it is presented almost as an afterthought. Instead, he first looked at the man, and said, (Matthew 9:2) ”Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” This is the scandalous statement that shocked the scribes present. These holy men thought to themselves, “This man is a blasphemer. Who can forgive sins except God?”
Then, Christ draws the sign to a close by asking a simple question, (Matthew 9:5-7) “For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?” While they were pondering this, Our Lord continued: “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. 7 And he arose, and departed to his house.”The sign is complete. Christ clearly drew the comparison that the One who could forgive sins was also the One who could heal a sick man with a word. He left it up to the scribes to make the obvious connection.
No doubt they did make the connection, but not being mixed with faith, it was impossible for them to realize what was really happening. Again, although they saw the sign, they did not have the gift of faith to see that God Himself was among them. Emmanuel had indeed come, according to prophecy, but their minds were closed.
God uses signs everyday to point us to Himself. For traditional, historic Christians such as ourselves, we have the most powerful and readily accessible signs available to us. These are the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments, both of which are meant to point us constantly to Jesus and his saving grace. When we think of our advantages as modern Christians, it seems it would be so much easier to believe, doesn’t it? After all, we the Word of God readily available in every bookstore, even every supermarket, all over the Internet, and broadcast on the airwaves. We have churches on virtually every corner all over this country, and we have the Holy Sacrament available on a wide-scale basis. In short, we have signs literally shouting the name of Christ virtually everywhere.
Why then, are not all churches full? Why, with all the abundance of signs, is not this country, even all the world, literally bursting with vibrant enthusiasm for God?
The fact is that signs alone are not enough. Note that Christ saw the men bringing the sufferer into His midst, and “seeing their faith”, proceeded to heal him. Signs merely point out the way to us. It is up to us to follow their direction.
Whatever they may be, and however they may show up in your life, watch for your personal signs that point you to Christ. Look for signs in your own spirit that lead you to a greater awareness of His power in your life. Above all, use the signs available to us to take the right road to Christ.
Then, when God calls us to heed a certain sign, let us all hope and pray that we have faith sufficient to take the road He has pointed out to us. It is that road that leads to our ultimate fulfillment.
Matthew 9:2 : “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.”