Ashes 8: Absolution...

The three most powerful words aren't "I love you," but "I forgive you."

Mark 2:1-12 1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he said to the paralytic - 11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

For many years, my childhood Southern Baptist experiences and teachings left me with some very anti-Catholic ideals. Most prominent was my vehement disdain for the sacrament of confession, now known as reconciliation (a much better word if I do say so myself). The way I was led to understand it, in order to be forgiven by God for one's sins, one had to confess to a priest. The priest was the middle-man between you and God. Coming from a tradition that emphasized a personal relationship with God, specifically with Jesus, this made no sense to me. In fact, it made me angry, obstinate. I didn't need anyone else to offer me God's forgiveness, dammit!

In the story above, four friends go to extreme lengths to bring their friend who suffers from paralysis to Jesus with complete expectation that, upon seeing their friend, Jesus will tend to his physical infirmities. I mean, they rip open the roof of a complete stranger and rig up a contraption of sorts to lower him down. Imagine the responses of those already in the room, waiting for Jesus to take care of their needs. Regardless, the man drops down, and Jesus sees him.

"Son, your sins are forgiven"

What? What the heck just happened? Seriously? Is Jesus blind or just plain stupid? The guy can't walk, and Jesus has the gall to say something like this?

That's exactly how the people in the room, the scribes in particular, responded — with shock, surprise, and ridicule. But after years of reading and hearing this story, I've come to some conclusions of my own.

As someone who suffers from my own different physical illnesses, both depression and chronic pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around my heart), it's often easy for me, especially when one or both of my sicknesses is in full swing, to not only feel powerless, dependent on the love and care of those around, but also completely ashamed and broken, unable to cope, to move, to breathe. Sometimes, during the worst spells, during those times where I'm bound to the bed or the couch, when my only company are my thoughts, I'm reminded of all my faults, my wrongdoings, my sins.

There is no way to tell whether or not the man who was paralyzed felt the same way. In fact, we never hear his voice much less his thoughts or emotions. The only two things we see of him are his being lowered down crippled and his standing up and walking, healed. No words. No response. Just walking away. The rest of us are left somewhat dumbfounded.

There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. — Oscar Wilde

The man never says a word, never confesses, yet Jesus somehow sees past the need of having his paralysis healed straight to his need of absolution. When your body is broken, the rest of you often follows. In those moments where we feel utterly shattered, Christ shows up to offer what our whole person needs most: absolution.

Shortly after I first joined GCN, I made a post in one of the general forums. I shared where I was at in the moment: broken, feeling dirty from years of self-loathing and from my struggle with lust and sexual sin, the bludgeon I constantly was beating myself with. In my past experiences of confessing to my appointed spiritual leaders, most often responded with a call to pray more, read my Bible more, ask God for more forgiveness.

There was another member on the boards who sent me a private message. In his he shared his experience as a former Catholic, and while he struggled with much of the church's doctrine and practices, one ritual, one sacrament, he found vital to the journey towards wholeness and healing was that of confession. Yes, there is power and restoration that comes from saying out loud the things you've done wrong. But then it's just out in the open, hanging, waiting for some kind of response. He responded to my vulnerability by offering me a written declaration of absolution...

He forgave me...

This stranger, the person I never met, never knew, said exactly what I needed to hear in that moment of utter darkness and crippling depression and shame. Knowing that the audible voice and tangible touch of the Creator was not available to me, he stepped in and spoke the voice of God to me, relinquishing me of my guilt. I couldn't help but cry, and I did, for quite a long time. Not because of sadness, but because of release.

I may never be a Catholic, but I now understand the power that comes with forgiving someone who's never wronged you — the power of absolution...