The Gospel lesson for today speaks to us about the liberating power of forgiveness. "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 multitude saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, who had given such power unto men."
As weíve so often said before, the miracles of Jesus, like his parables, are always illustrations of a point, and we must think about them, and look beneath the surface of the stories, to grasp their true significance. Todayís story illustrates the crippling power of sin, and the healing power of forgiveness to liberate and heal us.
Sin is deceitful and insidious, it presents a fair, attractive face; freedom from commandment and restriction, the liberty of doing what we like, when we like, and as we like. This idea of freedom is very popular in our world. To sophisticated modern man, old rules of right and wrong, and standards of good and evil, seem intolerable restrictions imposed upon our freedom. Perhaps they were necessary in bygone days, but surely now we are mature, and we can judge these matters for ourselves as we see fit. Surely, we are beyond those old fixed standards of good and evil - for us, they are only alternative life styles, to be chosen according to our feelings - the good is what feels good to us; the evil is what seems to cramp our freedom.
But, alas, that kind of freedom is illusory; it is a truantís liberty, an empty shadow, a parody of freedom. It is the diabolical temptation in the ancient garden: "Ye shall be as gods," said the devil, "knowing good and evil," having good and evil in your own judgement; you will be free of Godís commandment; thatís the devilís promise. It is a truants freedom to be sure; God is no less God, and his commandment is no less true.
Itís all there already in the beginning of the Book of Genesis: by disobedience, Adam and Eve are called from the garden of Godís presence, and that is followed by Cainís murdering of his brother, Abel. Even nature rises up against man, and produces thorns and thistles to impede his labour. What was meant for joy is turned to sorrow. Our claim to independence and the self-sufficiency of our private judgement separates us from God, and destroys community; it destroys our fellowship with one another; it cripples us, and spreads a palsy, a shaking sickness, through our life. We turn in upon ourselves and shrivel up in isolation. That is sinís deadly logic.
Only if we understand that - only if we understand the deadly logic of sin - can we really understand true liberty: the grace of God, in Christ, which forgives us, which restores to us the freedom of obedience, and commands us and enables us to forgive one another. To know ourselves forgiven is like rising from a bed of sickness, sound in life and limb. "Then saith he to the sick of the palsy, Arise, take up thy bed and go unto thy house. But when the multitude saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, who had given such power unto men."
Well might they marvel, and glorify God, well might we marvel and glorify God, for the power of forgiveness is a miraculous and world-transforming power. Our Epistle lesson, from the Letter to the Ephesians, is a wonderful account of that transforming power. 'Do not live in the vanity - the empty presumption - of your own mind, alienated from God, in the hardness of your heart; that is the way of sin'. "Ye have not so learned Christ." You must put off the old way of life, that old attitude, and "be renewed in the spirit of your mind." We who have been taught by Christ, we who know the meaning of forgiveness, must put off those things which separate us from God and from one another. "Putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour; for we are members one of another."
Certainly we will sometimes be angry, "But let not the sun go down on your wrath": that is to say, donít let anger lurk there, even overnight; it will fester there, and turn your heart to bitterness; it will become a devil within you, distorting and perverting your perspective. Make sure that all you work and all your words serve charity; that what you do and what you say will build up, and not tear down the church; that it will "minister grace unto the hearers."
How much of what we do and say is basically self-serving and destructive! How much of it arises from bitterness and anger, and ministers no grace to anyone! How much of it must grieve the Holy Spirit, who has claimed us for redemption! "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christís sake hath forgiven you." Itís a recipe for a new and different life, isnít it? - a recipe for a new and different world. "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind."
But how do we go about all this? How do we exorcise those devils of selfishness, and wrath, and bitterness, from our hearts? How do we become renewed in the spirit of our mind? Only by our conscious thankfulness of Godís gracious gift to us. Nothing is more essential to Christian spiritual life, nothing is more spiritually creative than that thankful recognition. We can put away bitterness and forgive one another, only as we truly understand that God, for Christís sake, has forgiven us. That is truly liberating knowledge.
Nothing is more fundamental than that thankful recognition. It should be the cornerstone of our daily prayers, that we give grateful thanks above all for our spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus, 'for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory'. The Prayer of General Thanksgiving in the Prayer Book (page 14) is a good place to begin. Why not use it as a daily prayer? If that thankfulness shapes and rules our hearts, it will also rule our lives; and, with the multitude who saw the healing of the palsied sick man, we too will marvel, and glorify God, who has given such power unto men.