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Soul and Body (St. Matthew 9.1-9)

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


“Soul and Body”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus     

St. Matthew 9.1-9

23 October 2022



Forgiveness of sins is God’s work and belongs to him alone. Jesus shows us the correct order with the paralytic. He heals his soul first by forgiving his sins. He absolves him of his sins and then heals his body. This means that forgiveness must take precedence over any other healing that God grants. The same order remains for us. God the Holy Spirit heals our souls first in Holy Baptism. He continues to heal with the words of Absolution as he brings the merits of Christ to bear on our sins. He heals us with the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Supper.

The people who brought this paralytic to Jesus have faith and when Jesus notices it he performs two miracles. First, he heals from sin; he forgives him. What were this man’s sins? Others in the Gospel have their sins named, such as prostitutes and tax collectors, along with thieves. Perhaps this paralytic thought that God was punishing him with paralysis. Perhaps he had an accident which crippled him, like a driver who injures another because of carelessness, or worse. He may have great resentment about his lost independence, having to be carried around by others, of not being able to work and have to depend upon the generosity of others for his food and clothing. He may well have been angry with God. He probably asked God why he had afflicted him as he did. He may have resented healthy people. Whatever the case, he, like all the rest of us, has sin.

Absolution is the most important thing in this life because if there is no healing of the soul the body is never healed. Sin resides in our flesh as Paul reminds us:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. [Rom 7:18–20].

The Old Adam must die and be buried forever, yet the New Adam comes forth in the waters of Holy Baptism because we put on Christ and receive his perfect holiness. We are buried with Christ through Baptism into his death and resurrection. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so shall we be raised on the Last Day. In Holy Baptism you really began to live because God the Holy Spirit began the life in you that never ends. He united you with the ever-living Son of God. 

Yet, even knowing this, we continue to pray for the healing of our bodies as we should. However, the fact remains that our bodies will die, the bodies of every last one of us. We pray for physical healing, and God indeed grants it in time, but not always. Even Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead by a word calling him from his grave, died again. His sinful flesh had to be buried again. All those who are in Christ by Baptism will be healed physically, even if eschatologically. The sinful flesh must be ended, died, and buried for good.

So, the important thing in this life is not the healing only of the body. It was important that Jesus show this in his healing miracles, but it was not the main thing. The main thing is the Absolution he earned for us on the cross. That’s why he absolved this man before he healed him. Without the forgiveness of sins there is no life after the body dies. There is only eternal misery apart from God. 

The real controversy was not the healing of the man’s body, it was the healing of his soul. The scribes accused Jesus of blaspheming because he forgave sins. It was evil because Jesus is God incarnate. So, after forgiving this paralytic’s sins, Jesus asked what was easier to do—forgive his sins because he is true God—or heal him physically. Then Jesus simply told the paralytic to pick up his bed and walk home. 

The crowd marveled that such authority to forgive sins was given to men. That is the key for us today, that the authority to forgive sins is given to men. It is still given in the words of Absolution which the Pastor speaks “in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Absolution is a gift which dare not be despised nor undervalued, but there are some denominations that act just like these Pharisees when they hear that Lutheran pastors forgive sins. Where they find the forgiveness of sins is inexplicable. They think that they find it in their hearts, in some kind of emotional feeling, but feelings don’t forgive sins. Their objection is the same as that of the Pharisees: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They deny that our Lord has given the power to forgive sins to his Church. The Augsburg Confession states it very clearly [XXV.3]:

At the same time the people are carefully instructed concerning the consolation of the Word of absolution so that they may esteem absolution as a great and precious thing.

3 It is not the voice or word of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. [Tappert, T. G., ed. (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 61–62). Mühlenberg Press.]

So, it is not the authority of the man who speaks the words but word of Christ who commands his Church to forgive sins through the mouth of the pastor who stands in the place of Christ himself. But most denominations have no doctrine of the Holy Ministry and hence, they despise despise Christ and his word.

Born around the year 50, Ignatius of Antioch learned the faith directly from the apostle John. Ignatius became the bishop of Antioch in modern-day Turkey. In the year 108 A.D., he was arrested for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. Soldiers took him in chains to Rome to be put to death. Along the way, he wrote seven short letters to the local Christian communities. Ignatius was the first to name the Sacrament the medicine of immortality, that is, “pharmakon athanasias”—that is, the “medicine of no death”—immortality. In the Lord’s Supper, you receive the medicine that brings immortality, that is, everlasting life. He wrote in his letter to the Ephesians that this is the antidote we take in order not to die physically, but to live forever in Christ Jesus.” How can he say this? Because the forgiveness of sins is united with Christ’s true body and blood in the Sacrament, because the forgiveness of sins is the main gift in this Sacrament—“given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” 

We need to see that everlasting life does not come from something we do but from the medicine [forgiveness] which comes from the mouth of Jesus. All the gifts of God are mediated. Always have been and always will be, as Luther teaches, “This is as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself.” [SC The Office of the Keys]. So it is the Word of Christ which does it. That it what makes it certain, to which we add our “Amen” when it is spoken to us, whether in the Confession in the entrance rite of the Divine Service, or in Holy Absolution before the pastor, or in the Sacrament of the Altar, or even when you forgive each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

This healing of the soul that goes on until the Last Day is the focus of the Ministry of the Gospel of our Lord. The Apostles are sent out [ποστέλλω] by Jesus for this very purpose of forgiving sins because that is the essence of the Gospel. It is the reason for the Divine Service. So the EvangelistLuke records these words of our Lord:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [Lk 24:46–47].

Pastors follow in the footsteps of the Apostles themselves. The Apostles chose men to carry on these holy orders in every place they visited. Qualified men were chosen to dispense the holy gifts. That is the essence of the Office of the Holy Ministry. There is nothing more important than this. It is centered in the DS but it also happens in Private Absolution and in the “mutual conversation and consolation of the brothers,” [Smalkald Articles III.IV] that is, when you forgive each other, husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings and friends, even enemies.

Forgiveness of sins must come before the healing of the body.We see that everlasting life does not come from something we do but from the medicine of immortality—forgiveness—which comes from the mouth of Jesus alone. And then, on the Last Day our mortal bodies will find perfect healing. To God alone be glory!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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