Today's Gospel, taken from Matthew 9, is an account of a healing spliced with a dispute over the forgiveness of sins. This incident is found in similar words in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. Mark and Luke both give a detail omitted by Matthew, a feature which has delighted generations of children in Sunday School. The crowd around Jesus was so dense that the palsied man had to be lowered through a hole in the roof specially cut for the occasion. We wonder how the homeowner felt about this!
Notice how the three Synoptics conclude the incident in different ways. Matt. 9:8, "When the multitudes saw it they marvelled, and they glorified God, which had given such power to men." Mark 2:12, "they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, We never saw anything like this." Luke 5:26, "And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things today."
It was not this miracle which shocked the crowd. By now they were accustomed to miracles, which explains the enormous size of the gathering. One the other hand, the mixed reaction of fear, surprise and adoration was provoked by the dialogue between Jesus and His critics.
It might seem, at first blush, that they objected to Our Lord claiming some special authority to forgive sins. But He had made no such claim. In all three accounts Jesus used a simple formula of absolution, very much like the absolution which our priests utter after the General Confession. He merely said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." The passive voice indicates an act of God. Jesus claimed no special authority for Himself in these words.
What the scribes and Pharisees found so offensive was the twofold suggestion of Jesus that (1) sin, not sickness, was the more basic problem, and (2) sin may really be forgiven. The Gospel over-rules every suggestion that the human dilemma, our predicament, is anything less than sin. And it tells us boldly that God forgives sin absolutely. Pharisees both ancient and modern would prefer for Jesus to say, "Thy sins may be forgiven, upon such and such conditions. Try to live a better life and God will settle up with you at the Last Judgment." But that is not what Jesus said and it is not the Gospel in which we place our hope.
All three accounts bring different facets of the truth. Mark tells us that the Gospel of Jesus is an utterly unique message. Luke tells us that this Gospel is indeed strange, foreign and abrasive to our experience. Matthew tells us the very thing which aroused the scribes and Pharisees: truly God has given to His apostles the authority to pronounce the forgiveness of sins. LKW