Forgiveness, Healing and the Resurrection
By the Rev. Charles deGravelles
People are crammed into every corner of the room. They spill through the open door into the street. Some have pushed into the crowded room only to listen and be lifted in spirit; after all, the Teacher’s words make all things seem possible. But by now, everyone has heard that the Master can, with a word or a touch, cure any condition or infirmity, and many have come with a secret prayer for healing—for themselves or someone they love. Among those on the street is a paralyzed man who nurtures in his heart such a hope. The two friends who carry him on a stretcher, determined to make this happen, somehow get him onto the roof and, after removing some of the thatching, lower him to the feet of Jesus.
The paralyzed man, his friends, and all who have watched this astonishing sight are disappointed by what Jesus says: “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Where is the healing in this, they think? Others are offended: “Only God can forgive sins. Does this man think he is God?” (Luke 5:18-25.)
As always, Jesus’ words are a lesson about the Kingdom of God and what it takes to live in it. Forgiveness, the Master is teaching, is an indispensable part of the true healing required to live in God’s Kingdom. It is a deep healing of the soul that transcends the physical. He teaches this lesson over and over again. His answer to Peter’s question – how many times should we forgive – may seem cryptic, “seventy times seven, but what he means is we should forgive a limitless number of times. In the parable Jesus uses to explain this difficult lesson, a king generously forgives the great debt of a man who then refuses to forgive a much lesser debt owed to him (Matthew 18:21-35). The point? God, who sees and loves us as we are, forgives our innumerable shortcomings and expects us to do the same with one another. Lest we think Jesus is exaggerating the importance of forgiveness, among his dying words on the cross are forgiveness for those who condemned, tortured and killed him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
In over twenty-five years of ministry—in prisons and in the “free” world—I’ve witnessed the pain, turmoil and despair that we can cause one another, and I’ve also seen many times, even in the most extreme situations, the miracle of healing that forgiveness brings. I’ve experienced it in my own life and that of my family.
Some denominations, including my own, use the season of Lent these days before Easter as a time for deep reflection and self-sacrifice. For some, it is a time of “giving up” something that, in however small a way, reminds us of what Jesus suffered and gave up for us. As we walk with Jesus through his most difficult days, we may want to reflect on where, in our own lives, forgiveness may be called for. Instead of (or, if you like, in addition to) making a vow to give up chocolate or soft drinks or meat, why not make an honest assessment of your shortcomings that may have caused others pain, and also the resentments, angers, or grudges towards others that you are carrying. Ask for God’s forgiveness and for help in forgiving others. The resurrection of Easter will be for you, as it was for the paralyzed man who picked up his mat and walked, a time of healing and new life.
Charles deGravelles is a deacon in the Episcopal Church. A long-time prison minister, he helped found The Chapel of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal congregation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and was a spiritual mentor to a death row inmate there. He is a graphic artist, composer and writer whose biography of the LSU football legend, Billy Cannon: A Long, Long Run (LSU Press), won the Louisiana Library Association best book of 2015. He and his wife, Angela, are the proud parents of three and grandparents of two.