In Mark 2, Mark describes how a group of friends bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus by removing part of the roof on the house where Jesus was teaching. They were expecting Jesus to heal their friend. He did, but to the great irritation of the religious leaders Jesus’s version of healing included forgiving the man’s sins as well. In this passage, we come face-to-face with a question that still puzzles us today: “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk?'” For Jesus, the healing of the paralyzed man is an inside out process, and his physical healing demonstrates the reality of his spiritual healing.
Today, we might say this: “Which is easier: ‘to let someone go despite wrongdoing’ (read “forgiveness” here) or ‘to make them pay?'” In our society, the latter receives the most attention. Movies like Kill Bill, where a woman seeks revenge on her former employers for taking the life of her unborn child and sending to her a hospital in a coma, portray a messy, yet to some degree rewarding view of revenge. At the end of the Kill Bill movies, she locks herself in a hotel bathroom while she laughs hysterically for the joy/relief of accomplishing her revenge mission. Katniss Everdeen, the main protagonist of the book series The Hunger Games, votes in favor of instituting a final Hunger Games, turning the Capital’s (the antagonists) main method of subjugation against them, in order to demonstrate the brutality of the Capital and exact retribution from them. Cultural depictions of revenge often acknowledge its inherent messiness, yet revenge is often glorified as a better alternative than forgiveness. After all, what’s more satisfying than successfully exacting retribution and putting the offender in their place?
Forgiveness, however, does not receive its fair shake. Keira Knightley illustrates this point well when she says: “It’s absolutely extraordinary. If only I wasn’t an atheist, I could get away with anything. You’d just ask for forgiveness and then you’d be forgiven.” It’s too costly for the one wronged and too cheap for the one forgiven. Forgiveness demands no change of course for the forgiven and gives no justice to the ones who have been wronged. Forgiveness offers no satisfaction – at least in the eyes of modern people.
Jesus holds a different view: His forgiveness is a powerful healer. Aside from Mark 2, where forgiveness and healing are presented as part-and-parcel to Jesus’s ministry, take a look at how Luke 4:17-21 talks about Jesus’s ministry:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus uses the language of Isaiah to describe his own ministry. Isaiah is using the language of Jubilee where debt forgiveness receives a central focus. The prisoner is no longer a prisoner because he is free. The blind is no longer blind because he can see. The debtor is no longer a debtor because he is forgiven. Forgiveness is truly a powerful thing if it can accomplish that!
So we come around once again to Mark 2. Jesus healed the man from the inside out. Forgiveness does not come cheaply for Jesus, but he gives it freely to those who need it and ask for it in faith. For those who receive his forgiveness, their outlook on the world is different. They are no longer rebellious outcasts but faithful children. No longer are they to perpetuate injustice; they are to be beacons of justice. They are to be lovers of God and of people. They are not perfect, but they seek to live lives that forgiveness frees them to live. Forgiveness does not allow us to live how we want without consequences. No, forgiveness frees us to live the way were made to live without condemnation.