The Kingdom Movement
A Literary & Pastoral Study Guide to the Gospel of Matthew
The Inspiration of Matthew,
On the King's Errand
Devotional Reflections on Matthew's Gospel
The Power of Jesus' Forgiveness: Mt.9:1 – 8
9:1 Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to his own city. 2 And they brought to him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.’ 3 And some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This fellow blasphemes.’ 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, ‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – then he said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, pick up your bed and go home.’ 7 And he got up and went home. 8 But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
In South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, forgiveness is public and brings about new relationships. Author Philip Yancey narrates one story. ‘The rules were simple: If a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu insisted that the country needed healing even more than it needed that particular brand of justice. At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an 18-year old boy and burned the body, turning it on a fire like a piece of barbeque meat, to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it. The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. ‘What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?’ the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. With his head down, the policeman nodded agreement. Then she, a follower of Jesus, added a further request: ‘Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.’ Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing Amazing Grace as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.’ (Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World, Zondervan, 2003)
This story exemplifies Christian love to me in many ways. The elderly woman presented both truth and forgiveness to the racist police officer who took so much away from her. She insisted on his personal transformation. She also, in the same breath, insisted on having a personal relationship with him, most likely to teach him about Jesus. That’s stunning.
The story reflects Christ’s love as well. Jesus presents us with both truth and forgiveness, in spite of the callous ways we have treated him and the God he reveals. Jesus also insists on our personal transformation, which happens only in the context of a personal relationship with him by his Spirit. ‘I still have a lot of love to give,’ he would say. ‘Live the rest of your life with me so I can be friend, brother, healer, Savior, and Lord to you.’ That’s stunning!