Many Christians have great sensitivity of soul. In a daily struggle to lead a good and holy life, they are scrupulously aware of their sinfulness. Some despair that God could ever forgive them their many weaknesses and failings. Other Christians at various times in their lives even fall into a way of life very much at odds with Christian values. They sin, and sin boldly. Sometimes, when they come to their senses, they may feel repentant but doubt that God could ever forgive the enormity of their transgressions.
It’s presumptuous, however, to consider God so small as to be unable or unwilling to forgive human offences, no matter their number or seriousness. It’s grandiose to presume that one’s sins are of such magnitude that Almighty God is incapable of pardoning them. St. Matthew shows Jesus, without any great ado, offering forgiveness to a paralytic with four words: “Your sins are forgiven.” The implication in this narrative is that God, quite simply, is always ready to forgive anyone at the drop of a hat.
It’s a human tendency to project human personality traits onto God. Depending on our temperament and the way we respond to offences against ourselves, we might picture God as petulant, grudge-holding, vengeful and the like. We fear God as unforgiving because that’s what we experience ourselves. It stands to reason, then, that we can come to appreciate God’s eagerness to forgive by practicing our own eagerness to be forgiving. And this is exactly what the Gospel encourages.
The Scribes are outraged that Christ would presume to forgive a man’s sins with a few simple words. They ask: “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” The point is, we can!
We all can be quick and eager, for example, to forgive those who sin against us. To err is human, but to forgive is divine. We can prove our own divine qualities, as did Jesus, when we say with fullness of heart, “You’re forgiven.”
The Gospel cautions us not to make God “small” with misguided ideas that God is cheap with grace and vengeful of human failings. But, by the same token, the Gospel encourages us not to be small ourselves. Big-hearted people are generally admired, and there is no reason we can’t be big-hearted ourselves. All that’s required is that we have an open heart and not hold on to grievances.
– Fr Augustine McBeth