Nov 12, 2008

I believe in the forgiveness of sins ...

In my RCIA class, we've been studying The Creed line-by-line. Last night's line was, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins" and it was only my second time to hear Fr. Joe give a "sermon." (The first was his homily during Saturday Mass) I think Fr. Joe could give even Bob Yandian a run for his money re: powerful messages, though obviously with more subtlety; also Catholic theology. ;)

He gave a couple striking passages exhibiting God's mercy - God's first act after the Fall was to clothe Adam and Eve, God set a mark (tattoo!) of protection on Cain after he killed Abel, Jesus ministered to the unclean Samaritan woman at the well, and Jesus' first words to His disciples after they had abandoned Him at His crucifixion were "Peace be with you." Obviously there are countless other examples, but these really struck me; still lingering with me is this appearance of Jesus to His disciples.

It is not explicit that Jesus is "forgiving" them, but since I'm big on Scriptural context, I kept reading, and was really surprised that Fr. Joe did not continue on ...

20 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. 23 Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.


Whoa.

I know the RCIA is intended to develop elementary Christian faith, but in my class probably 2/3 of us are baptized (Protestant) Christians; and this contextual passage really confounded one of my lingering Protestant ideas about the Church's doctrine on the authority to forgive sins - Confession & Penance.

To me, John's full context of Jesus' first appearance to His disciples conveys the message that God is unconditionally merciful and loving - there is nothing we nor the disciples do to earn it. But God additionally gives us incarnate, (super-)natural experience of it - Jesus materializes this mercy and love in the midst of His disciples, he speaks peace to them, he reinforces the message in the physical signs of his hands and feet (again later with Thomas). And then he sends, with authority, the disciples to go and do the same - explicitly saying to forgive.

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. I have also come to believe in Christ's Ordination of a priestly class who express to us this forgiveness, that we can experience God's unconditional love and mercy.

But clerical ordination is a whole other topic; probably another post. :)

7 comments:

Monk-in-Training said...

Yes, oddly enough when I am challenged by people saying that a Priest can not forgive sins, these are the verses I respond with. Jesus clearly gives this authority to His Apostles, who lay hands on the first Bishops. There is no demarcation between then and now, and no verse that says the gift of forgiving sins ends with those men Jesus was talking to then.

Saint said...

Another big one us Cathol addicts look on on that subject is Matthew 16:18-19. To Peter: "You are the Rock (Peter), and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Jeff said...

I suppose my reservation with this interpretation is about our trying to decide what teachings were intended only for the eleven (O, and Paul who wasn't there) and which were intended for the other followers like Mary and Mary and me.

I don't think I have an inferior appreciation for the disciples. Instead I think I have an elevated appreciation of all disciples throughout the ages.

luke said...

Very good point Jeff. I think I *will* go ahead and write up a post about what I now believe about distinctions between clergy and laity.

luke said...

Oh I also feel the need to point out, just for others who might stumble into the blog - not because I don't think you already know this, that Paul's Apostolic authority was bestowed by Jesus and confirmed by the Apostles and elders of the early church.

I know you didn't mean it this way, but in the small context of this blog post comment, Paul comes across as almost something of an afterthought, which we know isn't the case at all.

Feodor said...

Paul's Apostolic authority was his own claim based on his vision of or hearing from (the book of Acts is confused on this point) the risen Jesus and his argument that the success of his work among Gentiles was evidence. The apostles eventually agreed.

luke said...

"the book of Acts is confused on this point"

could you elaborate on that?