The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 9:1-8 and the Epistle is St. James 5:10-20
Coincidentally or perhaps by the grace of Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, our readings today fit quite nicely with the theme of this year’s clergy symposium. The theme was “…for the sick and the suffering”: Medicine, Theology, Healing.
The topic of sickness and suffering and how it relates to the Christian life is a powerful one. It is also something that can be difficult to understand and swallow. We live in a world that tries to kill pain whenever and wherever possible. We live in a world were we think that we have a right and privilege to be without suffering. We live in a world that constantly denies death.
Both of our readings today focus in on suffering. The first reading from the universal epistle of St. James tells us that if anyone is sick he should call for the presbyters of the Church. They should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and finally we are told that “the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
The concern for St. James is that when one is sick he must receive both physical healing as well as spiritual healing. We see this again in today’s gospel reading where the Lord Jesus looks at the paralytic lying on his bed and says “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” He follows this up with another statement, “Rise, take up your bed and go home.”
We think that the amazing aspect was that the man got up and walked. It’s true that this was a miracle, but it was a sign of an even greater miracle. The man’s spiritual life had been restored. People are physically healed every day. But this man received healing of his soul. He received the forgiveness of sins directly from the mouth and the declaration of the Lord Jesus.
In the life of the Church we see that everything within the Church is understood as therapy for the one who is sick. Every sacrament is medicine that helps strengthen us or put sins into remission or wipe them completely away.
If you feel that you have some great sins that are weighing you down and separating you from God and from others, you must learn humility. You must learn how to be vulnerable. You must learn to look to the priests of the Church as spiritual physicians. You trust earthly physicians and take whatever they offer you without thinking twice (sometimes to your own detriment), but we don’t come to receive the healing of Jesus Christ as it is offered in repentance and confession.
What good is it if you take communion every week and pray without first cleansing the heart and soul? Would you paint a beautiful painting on top of a dirty canvas? Would you serve your guests a fine wine in unwashed glasses? God wants us to offer good, pure, righteous offerings to Him. How can we do that if we are unclean and impure in heart? Confession is good, strong medicine. It doesn’t work if you come to confession to talk about others or to tell the priest that you are basically good. It doesn’t work if you think you have nothing to confess. It works when you are so convicted of your sins that you pour them out because you are certain that you need to be healed and that you need the Lord Jesus to carry those sins.
When should we confess? In our general practice we might suggest at least 4 times a year with an emphasis on confessing right before the major fasts. We should also come to confession when we have done things that are serious or when we feel that they are barriers to loving God and our neighbor.
Only about 20% of our parishioners come to confession. That means that the other 80% are either sinless or ashamed. Let me tell you something. If you are afraid to confess to a mere human being who wants to help you, how will you stand before the holy Judge? The Church is not here to punish you, it is here to help you. The Church does not want to condemn you, it wants to save you. The priest doesn’t want to hear about your sins, but he takes this burden gladly for the sake of your spiritual well-being. He takes it gladly because he loves you and he wants you to experience the forgiveness of Jesus Christ in a concrete way. He takes this burden gladly because Our Lord gladly took the burden of our sins with Him to the cross. He did this for the life of the world and this life is offered to each of you. Take your sins seriously and God will offer you serious forgiveness. Glory be to God forever AMEN.