Sermon for Trinity 19, 2021

Text: Matthew 9:1-8

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It’s not uncommon for Jesus to say and do unexpected things. When we read of a paralytic (or anybody with any disability or illness) being brought before Jesus, we generally know what’s going to happen next. Jesus is going to take care of the problem. He’s going to heal the sick, make the lame walk, and give sight to the blind. That’s what Jesus does. In the end, that is what happens when the paralytic in Matthew 9. It ends with the paralytic taking up his bed that he was lying on and going home. It ends with a man who couldn’t walk now having the ability to walk. That part was expected. The part that perhaps wasn’t expected was that which happened in between.

The first thing that Jesus does in response to the paralyzed man who is placed before him is that he sees the faith of the people who bring this paralytic to Jesus. Who is this man who can see peoples’ faith?? Nobody but God alone can see faith. It’s kind of like the wind. You can see its effects, but you can’t actually see it. Jesus is truly God, though, so he can actually see faith. These people believe that Jesus will heal their friend. They have seen what he has done already. They’ve heard his preaching. They have faith that their friend will walk and that Jesus will be the one to grant the healing that’s needed.

The truth is that nobody else there knows that Jesus can see the faith of these people. It’s also true that it’s not because of their faith that Jesus responds to their pleas. Jesus shows mercy to all because that’s his character. It’s what he into the world, taking on human flesh, to do.

The first thing that Jesus does that everyone witnesses is forgive the sins of the paralytic. We, of course, know that this is no small thing, but it certainly must have been a bit of letdown for the paralytic and those who brought him to Jesus. After all, they didn’t come all this way just to have sins forgiven. They came for healing.

Even though we know that the forgiveness of sins is a big deal, we tend to take it for granted at times. It’s not flashy, after all. Miracles are flashy. When someone is healed of disease on the spot, that’s flashy. When the lame walk, that’s flashy. When the blind see, that’s flashy. We live in a world that loves flashy things. We’re addicted to entertainment. We want it in all areas of life. If we’re not constantly entertained, we’re bored. We need work to be entertaining. We need school to be entertaining. We need every area of our life to be entertaining. I mean, have you ever stopped to think about how different our lives are today compared to even 15 years ago? 15 years ago hardly anyone had a smartphone. Blackberrys were just starting to make headway. Those who had them sometimes referred to them as “Crackberrys” because of their addictive quality. Now everyone has a computer in their pocket that they can whip out anytime they need to be entertained. Screens filled with information—most of it not very useful information—are everywhere now. Why do we have all of these things? At least part of the answer is that we have an insatiable desire to be entertained.

The forgiveness of sins is not entertaining. It is simple. It is ordinary. Think of how it comes to you. I speak the absolution to you using ordinary words. Baptism is done using ordinary water. Holy Communion consists of plain old bread and wine. None of it is flashy. It is, in fact, the opposite of flashy. Unfortunately, that means that we might become bored with it and decide that’s it’s not really that big of a deal. We come in the church doors looking for something fun and exciting and all we leave with is the forgiveness of sins. It shouldn’t be a letdown, but it sure might feel like it.

While this action of Jesus might have been a letdown to those who brought him the paralytic, it actually became a source of grumbling for the scribes. They grumbled to themselves, St. Matthew writes, but this Jesus who can see faith, also knows what people are thinking. The scribes are upset because Jesus forgave this man’s sins. Even if those who brought the paralytic might not think it’s a big deal, the scribes do. Even if we don’t think the forgiveness of sins is that big of a deal, the scribes do. “Only God can forgive sins,” they say. How dare Jesus claim to be in the place of God! Even if nobody else in Jesus’ presence was thinking it, it’s true. Jesus was speaking for God when he forgave this man’s sins.

Jesus responds to their grumbling by asking a rather profound question. “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Rise and walk.’” Well, what do you think the answer is? I mean, I guess the smart aleck answer would be that neither one is particularly difficult to say. What Jesus is really asking here, though, is “Which one of these things is harder to do?” Well, our answer to that would most likely be to say that saying “Your sins are forgiven” is far easier. It doesn’t take any special skills to forgive sins. It’s not flashy, right? But to give a paralytic the ability to walk? That’s a miracle. We can’t do that. Here’s the thing, though: Jesus does both of these things in this reading from Matthew. He forgives sins AND he heals the man’s paralysis. We might be more impressed with the latter, but look at the reaction of the people. They marvel at the authority that God had given to men. What authority? Look back at what Jesus says before he heals the man. “That you may know that the Son of man has the authority on earth to forgive sins…” That’s the authority that they marvel at. That’s the thing that makes them glorify God.

It is true that Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion are not spectacular, entertaining events – at least not to the human eye. The Word of God tells us otherwise, though. God’s Word attaches great promises to all three. They all deliver the forgiveness of sins to us. That forgiveness was won at the cross by Jesus and sealed by the greatest miracle of all: his resurrection three days later from the tomb. Without that miracle, there would be no forgiveness of sins. Each time we encounter the forgiveness of sins, it is an application of the grace and mercy of God made possible by the miracle of the resurrection.

We mustn’t forget the healing miracle done by Jesus, though. For that really is an extension of the forgiveness of sins. Why do people in this world get sick? Why do they die? Why are there people who can’t see or hear? Why are there paralytics? Because of sin. In his death and resurrection, Jesus removes the scourge of sin in this world. While we still live in it today, we know that on the Last Day, the effects of sin will be removed once and for all for the faithful.

So let us rejoice and glorify God this day that he has given, even to this day, the authority to forgive sins to men.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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