6th Sunday after Pentecost
on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 9:1-8
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Last Sunday we heard Christ healing two demon-possessed men in the land of Gergesenes, which was on the shore opposite of the town where Jesus resided. After He healed the two men, and cast the demons into the pigs, who swiftly rushed off the cliff and drowned in the sea, the people of the land came, in fear and astonishment, and asked the Lord … to get out.
Today’s Gospel lesson is the continuation of last week’s reading. After being asked to leave, Christ got into a boat and came to His town. As the book of Wisdom says, “Christ will not enter a deceitful soul, nor dwell in a body enslaved to sin” (Wisdom 1:4).
The Gergesenes people were enslaved to sin, there was no place in their heart or in their country for Christ. If we desire to have nothing with the Lord, He will have nothing with us. He does obey our wishes.
In His own town, the people also witnessed Jesus do a miracle, heal a person. The initial reaction of the crowd was similar – fear and astonishment. But, this fear and astonishment led them to glorify God, instead of kick Him out. The people glorified God because He had given such great power to human beings – the power to heal physical sickness and forgive sins.
It’s interesting that in these two healings, last week and today, only one group correctly identified Jesus as the Son of God. Do you remember who it was? The demons. When Christ got off the boat in the country of the Gergesenes, the demons saw Him and cried out, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, Son of God?” They knew His Name, they knew Him.
The demons recognized Jesus, while the people on both coasts saw a man who either ruined their plans to sell bacon or who was a blasphemer (as the scribes thought Him to be) or who had great power from God. But nobody actually recognized Him as God, only the demons.
So the crowd was astonished at the healing of a paralyzed man, who was able to walk again. But the real healing was the forgiveness of sins. Notice that no one asks Jesus for anything specific when the paralytic is brought to Him. A group of people simply brought their friend to the Lord. And it was kind of clear what they wanted.
They did not bring him to have his sins forgiven, that’s for sure. However, when Christ forgives the man’s sins, He is subtly saying that being unable to walk is not his real problem.
Our real enemies are not other people, no matter how wicked they may be. Our real enemies are the demons who constantly afflict us. And our real problem is not physical sickness, but sin. It is possible to be physically sick and still be saved, to inherit the Kingdom of heaven.
There are numerous saints who were either blind or lame or leprous or had other diseases, yet lived a holy life. Do you know what kind of saint does not exist? The sinful one, the unrepentant one. It is impossible to be stuck in sin and be saved. The real problem is sin.
And so Christ came to conquer sin and give the same power to the faithful who are in His Church. He heals people physically as evidence of the healing of the soul. There is no direct connection between sickness and sin, of course. But on the grand scale, the reason there is sickness and death in the world is because of sin.
The purpose of all the physical healings is not to show how powerful Jesus is. Because no matter how great the miracle, the people being healed eventually die. Even Lazarus, who was resurrected by Christ four days after dying, still died.
The healings are the signs of what God is doing through Christ in the whole world. The Jews eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah to judge the “bad” people, their enemies, and reward the “good” people, themselves.
But what Christ is doing is turn this expectation upside down. He is healing the bad people, making them good. That’s because God has come in the person of Christ, and all He’s found are evil people. All He’s found are people who are corrupted by sin. People who are on the wrong track, leading to death and destruction.
And by the way, this was true 2000 years before Christ, this was true in the first century, and this is true today. If left to our own devices, we abandon God, and quickly get on a highway to hell (as the song goes).
So instead of condemning us all, God heals and restores us. A good person is not the one who feels to be good in their heart (because feelings can be treacherous). Rather, we become good and righteous by acknowledging that we are bad, and through repentance we are purified and healed.
The people were astonished at the power given by God to human beings. The word ‘power’ here comes from a Greek word that can also be translated as ‘authority.’ So what power or authority has been given to human beings? And how do we exercise it? There is no point in having this power if we don’t exercise it, right?
Jesus Christ could heal and forgive sins because He shares the one essence with the Father. He is God because He is of one essence, one nature with God the Father. We do not share in God’s essence because by nature we can never become God. But through Christ we share in God’s energies. God’s energies are His working in this created world, His activity, His operation.
And the power given by God to human beings is our ability to participate in God’s energies, His activity in the world.
And this is first and foremost expressed in the forgiveness of sins, through which we conquer sin. We do this as a church, as a community that is faithful to Jesus Christ. And we exercise this power in confession.
Confession is a private event in the sense that it is only between the penitent and the Lord, with the priest being a witness. Being private, the confession is still corporate because it is made to the whole Church since the priest, who hears our confessions, is a representative of the Church, meaning all the faithful.
Through the power of the Church, where Christ is fully present, our sins are forgiven. All that we can offer when we come to Church is our sins. We have nothing else, just our sins. And what is offered back, through the power given by God, is forgiveness.
During the Ascension, Jesus said, “All authority, all power, in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19).
“Go therefore,” meaning He is giving us, as the Church, the same authority to forgive sins. And bring people home, as the paralyzed man who was healed was told to go home. Home is where God is present, where He knows us and we know Him.
To Him Who gives us power to forgive sins and Who forgives our sins, we give glory, honor, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.