“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he said to the one who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks a fascinating question. Which is easier – to forgive sins, or to make the paralyzed walk? The question is traditionally thought to be rhetorical, but is it? In an age where medicine has progressed so far and human nature has budged so little, which is easier? What would it mean, in practical terms, to forgive?
Jesus’s earthly ministry shows us a radically different way of living — one that defies the shadows of the tomb, but also the might of empire and the stubbornness of the human heart. All three of those things are hard to escape, and who’s to say which is hardest? If we really are to forgive as God forgives, how different would our society — our country look? Whose lives would be different?
Just as importantly, what would it look like if we "forgave those who trespass against us?" Which grudges would we let go of? With whom would we need to have a conversation? Who would we owe forgiveness? I can think of a few people off the top of my head – a few grudges that injure me just as much as they injure my friends.
It is Advent; Jesus is coming. It is an urgent reminder that God's ways are unlike his own, and that his coming demands change. To our society, our politics and our culture – yes, absolutely. But also to the way we live our own lives. We shouldn't use the real ways we hold grudges as a society to shield ourselves from criticism about our own lives. Both demand changes.
These changes will be hard. Perhaps it is sometimes harder to forgive than it is to get up and walk. But we can work with that. Maybe this Advent, Christ is calling us to begin, to begin a difficult, but necessary social and personal transformation. Towards a world that looks a little more forgiving. Where Jesus's question is actually as rhetorical as we pretend it is today.