JUNE 30, 2005 - GENESIS 22:1-19; MATTHEW 9:1-8
TO PROVE THAT THE SON OF MAN HAS AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE SINS, GET UP, PICK UP YOUR BED AND GO HOME. The Fathers of the Church read the Scriptures with a great attention to the details of language for which they had a keen sensibility. The best known among them were highly trained in grammar and rhetoric, some, such as Basil and Augustine were professionals. They fully grasped the fact that the sacred writers regularly conveyed more than they explicitly stated in their text. We do well in our reading and meditation of the Bible to attempt to follow their practice.
The present passage is a palmary instance of such subtle teaching on the part of St Matthew. As we saw the other day he had intimated that Jesus is truly God by his choice of words when the Lord "rebuked" the winds and the sea for threatening the boat of his apostles, thus quoting an expression used by the Psalm (107.29) as proper to God. In today’s Gospel he again by implication teaches the divinity of Jesus when he portrays his miraculous healing of the paralytic as proof that he has power to forgive sins. Just a few verses earlier he noted the objections made by he Lord’s critics when he claimed the exercise of this power. He puts it this way:
Jesus said to the paralytic: ‘Take comfort, my child, your sins are forgiven.’ And now some of the learned men said to themselves, ‘This man is being blasphemous.’
That is to say, he is arrogating to himself a power that only God himself possesses. The conclusion, then, when the word of Jesus cures the paralytic is that Jesus indeed possesses the divine prerogative and is free to exercise it in his own right. He does not pray to the Father for the cure or ask him to forgive the man’s sins; nor does he himself act explicitly in the Father’s name but of his own free choice. In short, he acts as only God has a right to act; he himself is God.
Further, it is not without significance that the story of Matthew’s call to come after Jesus, leaving his profession behind, immediately follows this account. Again, without saying it in so many words, Matthew here suggests that by his word Jesus frees this extortioner from his sinful occupation and, reading the dispositions of his heart, forgives his past sins. He then indicates that he has brought him into fellowship by taking a meal with him and by friendly association with Matthew’s friends. This freedom of bestowing pardon and new life is also strongly suggestive that the Lord is sovereign, disposing of pardon and grace as befits God alone. Once again this behavior is seen by the learned, this time not the Scribes but the Pharisees, whom the Lord rebukes in rather abrupt fashion as was his custom in dealing with those whose hearts were closed to the Spirit.
The Liturgy today reenforces Matthew’s point with no less subtlety than the Evangelist employs. For by depicting to our mind’s eye the story of Abraham’s trial of faith when he is seemingly asked to sacrifice the son of the promise in obedience to God., the lesson is that God rewards faith by, as it were, restoring life. God is the master of life. He gives freely to those who place their trust and hope in him. Just so, Jesus, in response to a trusting faith forgives sins and bestows new life witnesses to the divine power that he shares with the God of Israel. He too is the master of life.
Later, he passes on his powers, which, as he states after his resurrection he has received from the Father, to his chosen apostles. Thus it is in his name, and through him in the name of the Father and in the Spirit, that the Church disposes of the authority o forgive sins and to impart that new life which is the fulfillment of our human nature in a surpassing measure. May the grace of this Eucharist enable us to live in keeping with these gifts of God’s love and mercy until the day we meet together with all those who put their trust and their hope in the Lord.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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