daily biblical sermons

The deepest wounds of our soul are healed by Christ's forgiving word
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, First Week of the Year, January 17, 2020
1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22a, Psalm 88, Mark 2:1-12


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“And when Jesus saw their faith [the faith of the paralytic and the four men who were carrying him and letting him down through the roof], he said to the paralytic, ‘My Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5).



This is the account of four men who carry a paralytic on his bed and climb up to the roof of the house where Jesus is preaching the word of God to a huge crowd, in order to open up the roof and let him down with ropes on his pallet in front of Jesus, since they couldn’t otherwise get to him through the crowd. It seems obvious that this man and his four friends were looking for a cure for his paralysis, but Jesus looks at him and says, “My Son your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).



Jesus cures many people without first forgiving their sins, but this case is different; he ignores the fact that the man is a paralytic and simply tells him that his sins are finally forgiven. Then, since the scribes sitting there were grumbling in their heart about why Jesus is blaspheming in forgiving someone’s sins, since only God can forgive sins, Jesus tells them that he will prove that this man sins are forgiven and that he has the power on earth as the Son of man to forgive sins by telling him to take up his bed and walk; which he then does, and the man arose, picked up his mat, and walked home to the utter amazement of everyone.



But why is it that Jesus first forgives this particular man his sins? Perhaps he sees that this is this man’s number one problem, namely that he is overwhelmed with guilt for his past sins and that this guilt is causing him depression, which is his chief problem, making his life bitter and sorrowful, and is causing him far more problems than is his paralysis.



Is this man disappointed that Jesus didn’t cure his paralysis and only forgave his sins? I would think that he is deeply and profoundly grateful and relieved that Jesus saw his main problem and addressed it head-on. I would think that this man, upon receiving Jesus’ forgiveness for his sins, is like so many of us, when we receive sacramental absolution from a priest for the sins that are tormenting our conscience and leaving us no peace – even if these are only sins of thought or of accidentally seeing something that troubles us – for then we feel almost immediately a deep and profound relief that our sins have finally been forgiven by this sacramental absolution.



We can live with physical sickness and still be filled with heavenly peace and joy in our heart, but we cannot be joyful with a guilty conscience that accuses us day and night and gives us no rest and no peace – even for small sins – but rather drives out the peace of God that we formerly had. Indeed, as the wise man says, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). “A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13).



Then Jesus does cure this man of his paralysis, but only as an afterthought, simply to prove to the skeptical scribes that he does have the power and authority on earth to forgive sins. So they no longer need to accuse Jesus of blasphemy, for as the Son of man he does have the authority to forgive sins, proven by the cure that he gives to this paralytic that astounded everyone, when they saw him get up, pick up his mat, and walk home.



Some think that sins are the cause of physical diseases, and that diseases are the punishment for sins. This may be true in certain cases, but it is not necessarily so. Physical sickness can be a special gift from God that brings us many blessings that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Sometimes it enables us to do a spiritual ministry that we would not have time to do if we were in perfect health, for then we would be expected to do an officially assigned job that would leave us little free time. In any case, a sickness accepted as God’s will for us can be the occasion for a most fruitful spiritual ministry that we would probably be unable to do if we were in good health, for then we would be too busy for such things.



We also note that Jesus seems to preach on a daily basis, for people only came to the synagogues once a week on the Sabbath, where he could freely preach to them, but here today we see him preaching in a private home, probably Peter’s home, where Jesus lodged. Other times we see him preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and getting into a boat so that people wouldn’t crush him, and on another occasion preaching on a mountain (the Sermon on the Mount) and curing people in the crowds that followed him.



We see how important preaching was for Jesus. I think we could say that it is really the central act of his ministry and that he worked miraculous cures and exorcisms because he had the power to do so and he had compassion for people’s needs, but also to give visible proof of the divine origin of his authority to preach, and also to give evidence of the truth of his preaching, for he was indeed preaching extraordinary things, that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. You don’t make claims like that and expect people to believe you without providing visible proof of the truth of your preaching, which were his miracles.



Following Jesus’ example, there is no need to simply limit ourselves to a Sunday sermon and think that we have done enough. Since preaching the good news of salvation is so important, and so few people really take it to heart, understand it, and allow it to transform their lives, we should take every opportunity we have, even practically every day of the week, to preach, if not by word-of-mouth to a present congregation, then certainly in writing, and this age of the Internet opens up vast new possibilities for preaching the gospel on websites and by bulk email. One can advertise one’s website on Google and thereby gradually build up a mailing list of people interested in your sermons, which you can then send to them by bulk email.



Jesus Christ was surely the greatest preacher who ever lived. He was God in human form. And how did people receive his preaching? Crowds followed him wherever he went, seeking to listen to him and to see him perform some miracle or to have him cure their sicknesses. But how many actually believed in him? Probably not that many, for what does Jesus say about Capernaum, where today’s sermon took place and which was the center of his Galilean ministry? He condemns Capernaum in the strongest possible terms for its lack of faith in him and his gospel, “And you Capernaum, will you will be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24).



This is a terrible indictment of the city that heard Jesus himself preach and saw his miracles and yet did not come to faith in him, but it can also be an encouragement to us as preachers when we also see that not everyone listens to or reads or accepts or believes in what we preach. People may criticize us, but this should not discourage us, for they criticized Jesus. And what greater preacher after Jesus ever existed than St. Paul, but all you have to do is read the Acts of the Apostles and his letters to see how he was treated: how many times he was imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned, and expelled from different communities and cities.



If this is how Jesus Christ himself and his greatest missionary, St. Paul, were treated, do we expect to avoid criticism of ourselves and our sermons and lack of interest in them? We should remember what Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I spoke to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20).



How is it that Jesus has the power to forgive sins, a power which he has given to his apostles and which is exercised in his Church to the present day in the sacrament of reconciliation by his bishops and priests?



The answer is that Jesus forgives sins on earth precisely because he is the sin offering (sacrifice for sins) sent into the world by God the Father to be our substitute and suffer our death penalty for our sins for us on the cross so that we would not have to suffer it. Those that accept Christ with faith, repent of their sins, and abandon them, are declared righteous by God, because of Christ’s atoning death for our sins on the cross, and God reckons to us his own righteousness by means of our faith so that we shine with the righteousness of God himself, and not with a man-made righteousness that we have earned by our good works. Once we have received this righteousness of God that comes by faith, not by works, we are then to live a life of good works in accord with God’s normative biblically revealed moral law, and we now have the ability to do so through the grace of our justification, and in doing so we grow in holiness (sanctification).


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