O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ
comes again as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God. Amen.
Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
I will listen to what the Lord God will say,
for he shall speak peace to his people and to the faithful,
that they turn not again to folly.
Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and truth are met together,
righteousness and peace have kissed each other;
Truth shall spring up from the earth
and righteousness look down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give all that is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness shall go before him
and direct his steps in the way.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
One day, while Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say, “Stand up and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the one who was paralysed—’I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.’ Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’
Jesus asked: Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven you’, or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?
Jesus addressed this question to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who were, yet again, hoping to find fault in him. They felt very threatened by Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God and the way he wanted us to enter into a new type of relationship with God. Those Pharisees and teachers of the law were desperate to prove that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. It is in response to their desperation that Jesus asks his question.
If we pause and reflect for a moment we will find that there is much we can learn from Jesus’ response to those religious leaders. It is actually easy to say anything, but it is not always easy to live up to the challenge of our words. Jesus’ message is consistently a message of love and forgiveness for all. Jesus calls us to forgive those who would do us harm, no matter who they are or how great the harm they intend. If we take this call seriously we will feel the need to say: Your sins are forgiven. But … there is a wide gulf between saying the words and meaning them. As we journey through December our thoughts are largely focused on the coming Christmas celebrations, that time of peace and good will. We know the story very well, just as we know that Jesus, later in his earthly life, told us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. However, so many of us struggle with that level of forgiveness, even at this joyous time of the year. As people struggle with the secular and commercial aspects of Christmas, tempers fray and the capacity for forgiveness, which is probably always very fragile indeed, becomes something of a pipe-dream. We join with everyone else in being rude and self-centred, demanding the very best for ourselves and being prepared to fight tooth and claw for it. Perhaps the answer to Jesus’ question is that it is definitely not easy to say: Your sins are forgiven!
So, what about the other part of Jesus’ question: Stand up and walk. I am sure that most us will realize the challenge in these words, particularly in the context of today’s reading, where Jesus causes a paralysed man to do just that: Stand up and walk! We are not miracle workers, or are we? No, we are not likely to be able to cure the severe physical disabilities of our neighbours but we are all capable of making them feel six feet tall and as though they are walking on air. Rather than waving a magic wand we just have to show Christian love and charity.
The truthful answer to Jesus’ question is that there is no real choice to make. By forgiving others we are showing a level of love and respect that can heal the broken hearts of others. Extending a helpful hand in a forgiving, generous and loving way will make others feel valued; it will make others feel healed within damaged relationships. It will also bring healing into our own lives.
Today’s challenge is to recognize that Jesus is not really asking those Pharisees and teachers of the law a question, rather he is pointing them, and us, towards the true Christian life.
Prayers of Intercession
In peace, let us pray to Jesus our Lord, who ever lives to make intercession for us.
Saviour of the world, be present in all places of suffering, violence and pain, and bring hope even in the darkest night. Inspire us to continue your work of reconciliation today.
Lord of the Church, empower by your Spirit all Christian people, and the work of your Church in every land. Give us grace to proclaim the gospel joyfully in word and deed.
Shepherd and Guardian of our souls, guide and enable all who lead and serve this community and those on whom we depend for our daily needs. Grant that we may seek the peace and welfare of this place.
Great Physician, stretch out your hand to bring comfort, wholeness and peace to all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit. Fill us with compassion, that we may be channels of your healing love.
Conqueror of death, remember for good those whom we love but see no longer. Help us to live this day in the sure and certain hope of your eternal victory.
Let us commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray, to the mercy and protection of God.
Prayer for the week
Father in heaven,
our hearts desire the warmth of your love
and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.
Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour
and give us the strength to grow in love,
that the dawn of his coming
may find us rejoicing in his presence
and welcoming the light of his truth.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding;
‘Christ is nigh,’ it seems to say;
‘cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day.’
Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
one and all to be forgiven;
Edward Caswall (1814–1878)
based on Vox clama ecce intonat
(Latin, 5th or 6th century)