This is the 9th in a series of daily Advent reflections based on the RCL Daily Eucharist and RCL Sunday Eucharist. To see the other posts in this series click on the Advent Reflections link above, or in the right-hand sidebar under categories.
Today’s reading is Luke 5:17-26
When some of the cathedral members came the next day. They found two charred beams lying where the altar had been – they formed a cross. That morning the people decided that they should start a ministry of reconciliation. A prayer of reconciliation is laid against the altar. The paradox of grief and forgiveness.
The wonders of renewal – after many years a new Coventry Cathedral was designed and built which stands next to the old cathedral. This a not a great photograph – wrong camera – no tripod – difficult lighting – the excuses go on… But it shows a wonderful window designed, made and given to the glory of God. Look at the chairs to understand the scale of this window.
Today’s reading is about an occasion when Jesus, filled with the power of God, was healing the sick. Crowds had come from everywhere. So also, had many Pharisees – a religious sub-sect of the Jews – who wanted everyone to follow the religious law, right down to the smallest detail. They believed if everyone did this God would rescue Israel from the invaders (the Romans) and make Israel a strong independent country again.
There were so many gathered around the house Jesus was in, some men carrying a paralyzed man on his bed-frame couldn’t get in. So they carried the man, in his bed, up onto the flat roof, made a hole in the tiles and let him down right into the middle by Jesus. Jesus was so taken with the faith of these men that he told the paralyzed man. “Your sins are forgiven you”. Well! The pharisees were very upset – only God could forgive sins, and this could only be obtained after much religious ritual. They believed Jesus’s words were blasphemy. But Jesus basically asked them what would be easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or to do this – and he turned to the man and said “I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home”. Which the man did. Now everyone was amazed and realized they had seen something that was very strange to them. The pharisees would be thinking, who is this? With what authority does he do this? Can he really claim to forgive?
For a really helpful explanation of all that was going on in this reading (and all of Luke) I recommend Luke For Everyone, by Tom Wright (Westminster John Knox Press).
However, for this Advent reflection I want to focus on the fact that Jesus was filled with God’s power and had God’s authority – even to forgive sins. I’ll come back to this forgiving of sins. But first, the paradox is, this man Jesus, filled with God’s power and possessing God’s authority, never, never, uses either to benefit himself, to harm others, or in anyway to force anyone to do his bidding. Everything Jesus did (and does) he did by invitation. “Come and see”, “follow me”, “listen to me”. And, with all his power and authority, he allows himself to be led to an ignominious and terrible execution; accepting disgrace, pain and death on the cross. Why? Because it was through this act of obedience and humility that he was able to demonstrate fully God’s power and love. Through the cross and resurrection Jesus conquered both sin and death. So Humankind need never again fear death. Just accept Jesus’s invitation to come, see, listen and follow.
Quickly coming back to Jesus’s authority to forgive sins. This means that through Jesus we have direct access to God and to God’s healing forgiveness. While I still like to hear God’s absolution proclaimed by a priest (and as a priest, to proclaim it for others), I know it is not the priest who forgives, but God. And the forgiveness has already been given. I don’t deserve it, but I receive it, another paradox of the power and authority of God.