Who has the authority to forgive sins? This was a dilemma in Jesus’ day. The understanding of sin in first century Jewish culture was for one to miss the mark in their relationship with their divine creator. As an archer could miss the target, so too sin was missing the mark of where they should be focused. Therefore, no human person could make the appropriate amends. Only God could. For Jesus to forgive a person’s sins many thought was absolute blasphemy. For God alone can forgive sins. Notice that today we have Luke’s version of the event. Unlike Matthew and Mark’s versions of the event, Luke specifically places this in the context of Jesus teaching. Luke clearly states that he is teaching the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Luke places the healing experience in the center of the teachable moment. And with this, the blind are capable of seeing as they exclaim, “We have seen incredible things today”.
I’m thinking about this gospel because this past week parishes and Catholic schools have been hosting a plethora of penance services as we are in the Advent season. In listening to our children, I’m convinced that if I asked any of the little children who can forgive sins they would start with themselves. “I can forgive sins”. Some are quite good at it. They do it regularly. And I’ve noticed the littler they are, the better they are at forgiving. Just last month on All Saints day I neglected to see the little second grader across the sanctuary who was supposed to do the greeting. When I sat down for the Liturgy of the Word there she was, still waiting to do her greeting. After mass I went up and apologized to her and she just looked at me and compassionately said, “That’s OK”. And it was easier for her to forgive me than it was for me to accept her forgiveness. Why is it the older we become the more difficult it seems to be to forgive? I can conceive with some of the grudges and resentments I’ve seen people hold for so many years that only God and God alone could break through that mark which had been missed.
More meaningful to me than forgiveness of sins is Jesus’ desire to prove his authority. Luke states, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—” And his next actions state the authority he has as both word and deed complement each other. I believe there are many times in ministry we need to claim that authority. Recall when Jesus sends out the twelve and the seventy two, they are asked to do some pretty remarkable things and they can’t do them if they don’t claim the authority with which Jesus empowered them. Or how about the times we are asked to do some of the corporal works of mercy: whether it is visiting a prison, a nursing home, or even parishioners who are shut-ins? Somewhere deep inside you call upon this authority of Jesus to tell yourself this is the right thing to be doing even when your comfort zone is being threatened and stretched. And Jesus proves his authority. And sure enough, when you call upon that authority, the presence of the risen Christ is with you. And you relate to Christ in a more mature way.
Perhaps as we delve deeper into the darkness of the season, we light more candles on our Advent wreath and can find ourselves empowered by that light of Christ to claim the authority already invested to us.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.