In verse 5, of our passage we read the following words: “Seeing how much faith they had, Jesus said to the paralysed man, 'My son, your sins are forgiven.'”
Jesus' response to the paralysed man on the mat is and interesting one, because it suggests that in some way that there is a link between his paralysis and something from his past. Perhaps something he had done about which he felt guilty, or ashamed. Perhaps some area in his life where he needed to hear a word of forgiveness.
And so the story is powerful symbolic reminder that sometimes our actions in the past, our mistakes, our faults, our failings from the past, can paralyse us in the present.
Our sense of guilt or shame from the past can so haunt us that it prevents us from living fully and joyfully in the present. Sometimes we become disabled and paralysed by our attachment to guilt and shame.
A few months ago I found a wonderful little book called the Rule's of Life by Richard Templar. It is a condensation of one persons observation of life and people. From a young age, he was a keen observer of people, observing what made people tick, observing the habits, priorities and values of those who seem to live healthy, well-rounded lives in this world. He put these observations into his book “The Rules of Life”.
Rule 56 deals with the issue of guilt. The chapter has a large heading: “If you feel guilty, that is a good sign”. He goes on to say, bad people don't feel guilty, they are too busy being bad. Good people feel guilty because they are good, and they feel they have done wrong, let somebody down. If you feel guilty, it is therefore a good sign. It shows you are on the right track.
But it's important to know how to deal with our sense of guilt, because as Templar writes, guilt can be a terribly selfish emotion. Unless it leads us to a constructive action or a constructive resolution, it is wasteful and pointless. As our passage suggests today, often it becomes paralysing and disabling.
Richard Templar suggests we have two choices: Put it right, or dump the guilt. He reminds us:
"We all make mistakes.
We all mess up from time to time.
We don't always do the right thing.
And if we have a conscience we will feel guilty."
But as Templar writes: Guilt is utterly pointless unless it is acted on for the better. If you mope about feeling guilty, but do nothing about it, then it's a waste of time, a waste of energy and a waste of life.
The first thing we need to do is to gauge whether we really need to feel guilty or not. It could be that we simply have an over-developed conscience or sense of duty. For example, if you are the kind of person who always desires to help others, and on one occasion you say 'No', then there is no need to feel guilty. Not all guilt is morally or ethically accurate. Not all guilt is a sign of moral or ethical failure.
Secondly, if our guilt is more than just an over-developed conscience and there is something that we can do to put right what we have done wrong, then for our own sake, as well as the sake of the other, we should do so.
Putting right mistakes we have made brings wholeness and peace. It is one of the foundational principles of Alcoholics Annonymous.
People who have been through the 12 steps program of Alcoholics Anonymous know that recovery and wholeness is facilitated by putting right the things we have done wrong in the past. It not only helps to heal relationships, but also repairs our fragmented souls, it heals our broken psychology and fractured emotions.
Putting right what we have done wrong is a way of becoming or being a psychological adult – taking responsibility for our actions. It is children who have to be taught to clean up after they make a mess. Putting right what we have done wrong is the adult way of cleaning up after we have made a mess.
Thirdly, if it is not something we can put right and have offered an apology, then all we can do is learn from the experience. All we can do is ask what life lesson we have learned from it and move on without wallowing in our guilt forever. Learn the lesson, make a resolution, dump the guilt and move on by letting it go into the ocean of God's grace and forgiveness.
And perhaps this is the one thing missing from Richard Templar's book, the sense that there is One that we can go to who can take receive our guilt. One who in Divine love can ease our sense of shame and help us start over. That Infinite Wisdom and Love we call God.
“My son, my daughter, your sins are forgiven… pick up your mat and go home”.
Like the pharisees in this passage, there will always be those who will watch in judgement and who would prefer to see us paralysed by our guilt forever. There will always be those who will want to hold the past over us and never see us move on. And sometimes, if we are honest, we are like those pharisees.
Lastly, One commentator writes that when Jesus says to the man “My son, your sins are forgiven”, Jesus was declaring that God is not offended by our humanity. God is not offended by our weaknesses and frailties. God is not offended by our mistakes and our bad judgements. Which is another way of saying “Your sins are forgiven”.
What is interesting in this passage, is that the pronouncement of forgiveness is without even a confession of guilt by the man on the mat. God's offer of forgiveness is not conditional. It is simply given. It is like the parable of the prodigal son who returns home. Even before he has been able to make his confession to his father, the father has already embraced him. The father has already ordered that a ring is put on his finger and a robe placed around him.
In one of the beautiful communion prayers in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer we read: "O God, it is your nature always to forgive, and on that we depend."
It is the very nature of God to forgive. In other words, that is what God is like.
It is the sun's nature to shine.
It is the nature of water to be wet.
It is the nature of grass to be green.
It is the nature of God to love and forgive.
Hearing that I am not an offense to God is healing.
It is possible to start over.
It is possible to pick up the mats of our of paralysis and go home.