In today’s reading of Matthew 9, we read the famous scene where Jesus forgives the sins of a paralytic. The Pharisees are outraged basically asking, ‘Who does this man think the is that he can say someone’s sins are forgiven?’ Jesus, hearing their objection basically says, ‘You want proof that I can forgive sins? How about if I make him walk again. Now do you see that I can do as I say.’
What’s interesting is what happens after the miracle, when Jesus has shown that He can do what he says. The text says that they marveled because the power to forgive sins “had been given to MEN” (PLURAL). Here is the verse:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he then said to the paralytic— “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
But in the scene only one man, Jesus, forgave anyone’s sins. If this story were only talking only about this isolated event then verse 8 should read, “and they glorified God who had given such power to A man” (singular). However, this verse is universally translated as “men” – PLURAL (sometimes also translated as “human beings” – again plural). Since the story is only talking about a singular person forgiving sins in a sense it is a “mistake” for the plural “men” to be used.
In follows therefore that verse is not relating only what happened on that day but also is stating the truth of how the world is. This makes sense because this Gospel is written by Matthew, an Apostle, who along with the other Apostles had been given the authority to forgive sins. Thus, at the time this is written there are MEN (plural) who have the authority to forgive sins.
And we know that this authority did not reside solely in the 12 Apostles. Paul talks of having “the ministry of reconciliation”. One is reconciled to God when one’s sins are forgiven. Further, we can safely presume that Barnabas, the one who took Judas’ place received this authority.
When the Bible talks about things like salvation and the forgiveness of sins we can safely presume that those things apply to us today. Thus, there should be men alive today who have the authority to forgive sins. Who might these men be? Does anyone even claim this authority? No protestant minister ever would. If you asked one they would surely answer that only God forgives sins. However, there is one group of men that for the last 2,000 years have claimed the authority to forgive sins. These men are Catholic Bishops and Priests. If you asked them would humbly qualify their authority. They would tell you that they are just God’s ministers. That they have no independent authority of their own. That they are simply speaking what God is doing.
If Priests are simply articulating what God is doing, why then are they even part of the equation? Remember when God asked Adam where he was hiding and what he had done? God didn’t need to ask, he already knew, but he asked because Adam needed to say it and because Adam needed to hear God’s response. And that is why God gave authority to men to forgive sins. As humans we can all find multiple ways to justify our sins but when we speak them they become real to us and the justifications fade away as empty excuses. As humans, we need to hear that we are forgiven. Because God knows what we need he has given authority to MEN to forgive sins.