Sunday, September 30, 2012

18th Sunday after Pentecost

1 Corinthians 1:4-8 / Matthew 9:1-8

And Jesus seeing their thoughts, said: Why do you think evil in your hearts?

The scribes find themselves, or so it would appear, in a bit of a bind. They know perfectly well that God, and God alone, has the power to forgive sins. To admit otherwise is to reject their whole faith, to abandon not simply what they imagine God to be, but indeed what God has revealed about himself. In other words, this is not simply the case of men who need to expand their conception of God, as though it is only in their vain imagining that God alone forgives sins, whereas in fact the forgiveness of sins can come willy-nilly from anyone whoever would claim to offer it. Whatever else their faults, the scribes are quite right in concluding that anyone who is not God and claims to forgive sins has blasphemed.

This, however, is the source of their bind. Jesus rebukes this line of reasoning, or so it would seem, when he challenges their own unspoken challenge — He blasphemeth. — and says aloud in rebuke, Why do you think evil in your hearts? Now, we know by faith that Jesus is God and man, and therefore he can rightly claim to forgive sins without blasphemy, but what of the scribes? What reason do they have to acknowledge Jesus' claims to divine authority? After all, the miraculous healing, what will serve to move the hearts of the multitude with fear and lead them to glorify God, Who had given such power to men, was not yet in evidence when Jesus had said to the man sick of the palsy, Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Absent this kind of evidence, we might well regard the scribes' concerns as praiseworthy, even if mistaken in fact.

Yet, Jesus is not one to accuse lightly, to find fault where there is none to be found. So, we would do well to look again at his rebuking question, Why do you think evil in your hearts? Could it be, then, that it is not the scribes' reasoning which is flawed, but rather their refusal to make their objection openly, that earns Jesus' criticism? If the scribes had honestly and without fault imagined that Jesus had been guilty of blasphemy, and by implication so also the man who was brought for healing and those who brought him as well, then what can explain their silence? Why, that is, would a zealous desire to defend God's honor be held within themselves rather than be brought out in the open? The scribes, we can see, were more content to know themselves to be right and to allow Jesus to remain in spiritually deadly error than to risk an open correction. Rather than draw Jesus and those who sought him out back into right relationship with God, they contented themselves to be silently righteous, leaving those in error to remain in the darkness of grave sin.

While we must always use prudence in choosing when and where to correct our brothers and sisters in their errors, true charity demands that we make our concerns known. At the very least, we should want to draw those who seek God to follow those paths that he has revealed, and in so wanting, we owe it to our neighbors to manifest our worries, as opposed to keeping them hidden. This means, of course, that we must be open as well to our brothers' concerns, living a life that invites and welcomes, rather than repels and rebuffs honest attempts to steer us on the right path.

God wills our good, and so wills that we desire not merely our own good in him, but also that of all of our brothers and sisters. Will we, in the face of what we worry to be grave sin in others, be content to congratulate ourselves on being in the right, speaking our rebukes only within ourselves and not aloud where they might do some good? Or, will we dare to correct, and be open to correction, that in our mutual desire to come to God, not a one may be lost?

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