Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”
Jesus asks many rhetorical questions during the course of His three years of public ministry. His questions often seem on the surface to be simple questions. Frequently, as in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus follows up a rhetorical question with a dramatic deed that captures one’s attention, distracting one’s attention away from the rhetorical question.
Yet without disregarding the importance of the miracle that Jesus works in today’s Gospel passage, it would be profitable to focus upon Jesus’ rhetorical question: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”
So which of those two statements is, in fact, easier to say? The most literal response would be that both are equally easy for anyone who has the faculty of speech. There’s nothing difficult about saying those words.
Of course, the deeper meaning of Jesus’ question concerns the difference between forgiving someone’s sins and giving a lame person the ability to walk. Why, then, doesn’t Jesus instead ask: “Which is easier, to forgive a man’s sins, or to give a man the ability to walk?”? It’s in the context of this difference – between these two types of miracles – that the following words of the passage draw our attention: “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he then said to the paralytic” the words by which Jesus healed his physical infirmity.
In other words, Jesus’ rhetorical question draws our attention to the fact that by means of His divine authority, Jesus chooses to work miracles through the speaking of words. Instead of saying to the lame man, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home”, Jesus could have waved His arms over the lame man. Or Jesus could have snapped His fingers. In fact, as is so often the case during the course of His public ministry, Jesus chooses human words to serve as the effective means of working His miracles. In turn, Jesus gave to His Church a share in this divine power. The Church confers the seven Sacraments through the use of words (and often actions as well): for example, bread and wine become Jesus’ Body and Blood when the priest speaks the same words that Jesus spoke at His Last Supper. So the simple rhetorical question that Jesus asks in today’s Gospel passage offers us a lot to reflect upon: Jesus’ choice to use human speech to work miracles, and His choice to extend this means of accomplishing divine words to His Bride, the Church.