The Gospel. St. Matthew ix. 1.
At that time: Jesus entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And behold, they broght to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed. And Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy: Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee. And behold certain of the scribes said within themselves: This man blasphemeth. And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said: Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say: Thy sins be forgiven thee? Or to say: Arise and walk? But 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 marveled, and glorified God, who had given such power unto men.
One of the things that separate Anglican Catholics from those “modern” or “liberal” “ecclesial bodies” is our Christology. What this means is that we, as traditional Catholic Christians, believe and proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the Savior of the World; the Christ that was foretold in the ancient Scriptures. Indeed, we believe that Jesus is, by his own words, one with God; that he shares in the Divinity of the Eternal Godhead; and that therefore he is God. The “modern” or “liberal” thought is that Jesus was merely a great guy who was killed for political reasons.
Now of course I’m oversimplifying the “liberal” position; and no doubt if you asked some of the more educated of that bunch they would give you any number of well reasoned explanations about how and why Jesus was just a “very special person”, and that he certainly had no singular connection with anything that might be construed as “divine”.
But these people tend to dismiss or ignore or (at best) attempt to rationalize the plain facts of the Gospel, as we just heard today; “But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins…”. With this statement, Our Lord makes something very clear: He is one with God; their Will in inseparable. And since The Will of God is reflected by the actions of His Son, it follows that the Will of the Son of Man is equal with the Will of God. So when the Son of Man (the Son of God) forgives sins, we may conclude that such forgiveness is the Will of God as well.
By this statement, among others throughout the Gospels, we likewise know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, also shares in the Divinity of God. And because of this, we also know that Jesus has the authority to tell us how we should live and profess our Faith. Throughout the Gospels, we are told of how Our Lord makes this clear. “THIS is my Body”, “THIS is my Blood”, “Do THIS”. These are some of my favorite examples. Today, we are given yet another example, to which I have already alluded; “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth…”.
This is a very powerful statement, especially when you consider the context of the times in which Jesus spoke these words. Even the least educated Jew of that time would know that only God could forgive sins. And here was this carpenter’s son claiming that he also had the authority to forgive the sins of another. What seems so ordinary to those of us who have heard this lesson so many times, was quite the bombshell two thousand years ago. You see, in forgiving this man’s sins Jesus was claiming an authority that the Jews attributed only to God. By claiming this authority, Jesus was telling us that he is equal with God; by claiming this authority, Jesus was telling us that he is God.
Of course, this isn’t the only example of such a claim. Remember in the 8th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the people that “before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58); thereby proclaiming his pre-existence with God: his equal status within the Eternal Godhead.
But of course, you know all this. So why am I blathering on about it? Well, to answer this question, I direct your attention to today’s Epistle (and if this seems to be a digression please bear with me).
In this particular lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:17), we are once again given a whole list of things that we ought not to do; lasciviousness, uncleanness, greediness, anger, gossiping; just taking all the “fun” out of life. The modern thought on this pattern of St. Paul’s writings is twofold; one, that Paul is parroting Jesus’ simple command to “be nice to one another”, and two; that Paul was a self-hating person who was hung up on telling others what to do.
But what St. Paul is really saying here is that this is how Christians are supposed to act. More to the point, Paul tells us that if we are truly followers of Christ, then we have no excuse for acting any other way. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us about how Jesus created a new human being from both Jew and Gentile (which is a subject for a different sermon, by the way). And because we are now new human beings, we cannot live our lives according to our old ways.
You see, our old ways are based on pride and selfishness. We do things because they make us feel good; they make us feel justified. And so we tell little gossipy stories to amuse ourselves and others and to give the impression that we are “in the know”. We display anger to show our righteous indignation at certain events; and we hold on to that anger because we see no need to forgive and risk losing our righteous indignation.
Likewise, the liberal thought is based on pride and selfishness. We cannot tell others how to live their lives; that’s a personal choice and all morality is relative. Don’t you dare tell someone that he or she is endangering their salvation because; a) that’s none of your business, and b) what salvation? Just be nice to others so that you can feel good about yourself.
But of course, all of these ways of thinking miss the entirety of the message that Christ and his Apostles, including St. Paul, preached to us; that everything we say, everything we think, everything we do, must be inspired by our love of God and our willingness to do His will and live by His commandments.
This is the primary danger of modern theology and the trap that even we traditional Catholic Christians can fall into. But whereas the modern “thinker” will focus on those parts of the Gospels and St. Paul’s letters that mandate that we need only treat our fellow man “nicely”, we Catholic Christians must focus on the “why” of that message; that we, as followers of Christ, have been made new by him; and therefore we cannot allow human pride and selfishness to dictate our actions.
While liberal “theologians” will reduce the Gospels and Epistles to a message of “social justice and responsibility”, we must focus on the message of God’s love for us and the Salvation we have been granted through the Sacrifice of Christ. While Protestants will tell us that authority rests only in Holy Scripture, we must remember that Jesus Christ is God; and that because of this fact, he not only has authority here on earth, but that he likewise passed on that authority to his Apostles and to the Church (which, by the way, was in existence nearly 400 years before the Canon of the Bible was finalized).
And so we come full circle, from today’s Gospel, to the Epistle, and back to the Gospel; “But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth…”. Not many of us would dispute that Our Lord has the authority to tell us how we should live our lives. Very few of us would dispute St. Paul’s authority to do likewise. But too many modern or liberal thinkers would have us believe that the Church has no right to tell us how we should live; that the Church cannot mandate or legislate morality.
These people deny the authority of the Church, and therefore they also deny the authority of he who started the Church; Jesus Christ himself. And by doing so, they reject the Authority of God Incarnate: by doing so, they deny the Authority of God Himself.
This is the danger that we must guard against as well. We must not fall into the Protestant trap of rejecting the history, tradition, and authority of the Church. We must not fall into the liberal trap of rationalizing our behavior. We must not fall into the trap of the “modern” theologian and ignore the fact that Jesus speaks to us plainly, directly, and with ALL Authority; because if we fall into any of those traps, we reject that authority, and we reject God.
And so, as we accept the authority of God; we reject the “modern” or “liberal” attempts to rationalize behavior or “rewrite” Holy Scripture to suit our needs and desires. We stand firm in our Christology; we stand firm in our belief in the identity of Jesus Christ; the one who has ”power on earth to forgive sins“.
We stand firm in our Faith in he who has all Authority on earth; The Son of Man, the Son of God, God Incarnate. We stand firm because not only do we “know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins…“, but that he has also seen fit to bestow this authority to his Church; through his Apostles and their successors. And because we acknowledge the Authority of Christ Our Lord, we give thanks to him, and we join with the witness of the people in today’s Gospel lesson; with them, we also “marvel, and glorify God, who has given such power unto men “.