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Jesus Christ has the power to forgive sins

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 7 October 1987 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Linked to the divine power of judgment about which we spoke in the previous reflection, Jesus Christ claimed the power of forgiving sins. The evangelists inform us of that, especially John. We have seen that the divine power of judging each and every person—underlined especially in the apocalyptic description of the last judgment—is profoundly connected with the divine will to save humanity in Christ and through Christ. The first step in putting the plan of salvation into effect is the remission of sins.

It may be said that the revealed truth of the power of judgment has its continuation in all that the Gospel says about the power to forgive sins. This power belongs to God alone. If Jesus Christ—the Son of Man—has that power, it means that he is God, according to what he himself said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). From the beginning of his messianic mission, Jesus not only proclaimed the necessity of conversion ("Be converted and believe the Gospel," Mk 1:15) and taught that the Father is ready to pardon repentant sinners, but he himself forgave sins.

2. The power which Jesus professed to possess by claiming it for his personal self without any hesitation is seen with greater clarity precisely in such moments. For example, he stated that, "The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" (Mk 2:10). He said it to the scribes who were present at Capernaum when a paralyzed man was brought to him to be healed. The evangelist Mark tells us that those who accompanied the paralytic had gone so far as to open the roof and let down before Jesus the pallet on which the sick man lay. On seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "My son, your sins are forgiven" (Mk 2:5). Some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins except God alone?" (2:7). Jesus was immediately aware of their reasoning, though they kept it to themselves, and he said to them, "Why do you harbor these thoughts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, (he said to the paralytic), 'I command you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' The people who saw the miracle were amazed, and they praised God saying, 'We never saw anything like this'" (2:8-12).

The amazement aroused by that extraordinary cure is understandable, as well as the feeling of fear or awe. According to Matthew, fear seized the crowd in the presence of the manifestation of that power of healing granted by God to men (cf. Mt 9:8) or, as Luke put it, on account of the "extraordinary things" seen that day (5:26). But for those who reflect on what took place, the miraculous cure is seen as the confirmation of the truth proclaimed by Jesus and perceived and opposed by the scribes, "The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins."

3. Jesus' precise statement about his power to forgive sins on earth should also be noted. He already exercised this power during his historical life, while he moved about as Son of Man in the towns and roads of Palestine, and not merely at the eschatological judgment, after the glorification of his humanity. Already on earth Jesus is "God with us," the God-Man who forgives sins.

It is likewise to be noted that in all cases in which Jesus spoke of forgiveness of sins, those present manifested opposition and were scandalized. This was so in the case of the woman who was a sinner, who went to the Master while he was seated at table in the Pharisee's house. Jesus said to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven" (Lk 7:48). The reaction of the others seated at table was significant. They began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" (Lk 7:49).

4. Also in the case of the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees in order to force him to give judgment on the basis of the Mosaic law, we find some significant details recorded by the evangelist John. Jesus' first reply to the woman's accusers, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her," gives us a perception of his realistic understanding of the human condition, beginning with that of his questioners who began to drift away one by one. We note also Jesus' profound humanity in his treatment of the unfortunate woman, of whose sins he certainly disapproved, for he said to her, "Go and do not sin again." But he did not crush her under the weight of a condemnation without appeal. In Jesus' words we can discern the reaffirmation of this power to forgive sins and therefore of the transcendency of his divine identity. When he asked the woman, "Has no one condemned you?" she replied, "No one, Lord." He declared, "Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again" (8:10 f.). Those words, "neither do I" vibrate with the power of the judgment and forgiveness which the Word has in common with the Father and which he exercises in his human Incarnation for the salvation of each one of us.

5. In this context of the whole mystery of salvation and of the forgiveness of sins, what matters most is that we love Jesus with our whole soul—he who comes to us as the eternal will of love and of forgiveness. Christ himself teaches us this when, seated at table with the Pharisees and seeing them surprised by the fact that he accepted the marks of veneration on the part of the woman who was a sinner, he recounted to them the parable of the two debtors. One owed the money-lender five hundred coins, the other fifty. Since neither was able to repay, the money-lender wrote off both debts. "Which of the two," Jesus asked, "was more grateful to him?" Simon replied, "He, I presume, to whom he remitted the larger sum." Jesus said to him, "You are right.... You see this woman?... Her many sins are forgiven because of her great love. But he who is forgiven little, loves little" (cf. Lk 7:42-47).

The complex psychology of the relationship between the creditor and the debtor, between the love which obtains pardon and the pardon which engenders new love, between the rigorous measure of giving and possessing and the generosity of the grateful heart which tends to give without measure, is condensed in these words of Jesus. They invite us to adopt the right attitude in the presence of the God-Man who exercises his divine power of forgiving sins for our salvation.

6. Since we are all in debt to God, Jesus included in the prayer taught to his disciples and passed on by them to all believers, that fundamental request to the Father, "Forgive us our debts" (Mt 6:12), which in Luke's version reads, "Forgive us our sins" (Lk 11:4). Once again he wished to teach us that only God can forgive sins (cf. Mk 2:7). At the same time, however, Jesus exercised this divine power in virtue of that other truth also taught by him, namely, that the Father has not only "given all judgment to the Son" (Jn 5:22), but has also conferred on him the power to forgive sins. Evidently it is not a case of a simple "ministry" entrusted to a mere man who carries it out by divine command. The significance of the words with which Jesus claimed the power to forgive sins—and in fact forgave them in so many cases narrated by the Gospels—is more forceful and more telling for the minds of Christ's hearers. They charged him with claiming to be God and accused him of blasphemy with such fury as to lead eventually to his death on the cross.

7. Jesus entrusted the ministry of forgiving sins to the apostles (and their successors) when he appeared to them after the resurrection, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven" (Jn 20:22 ff.). As Son of Man who is personally identified with the Son of God, Jesus forgave sins by his own power, communicated to him by the Father in the mystery of the trinitarian communion and of the hypostatic union. As Son of Man who in his human nature suffered and died for our salvation, Jesus expiated our sins and obtained for us their remission from God One and Three. As Son of Man who in his messianic mission must prolong his saving action until the end of time, Jesus conferred on the apostles the power to forgive sins to help mankind to live in harmony of faith and action with that eternal will of the Father "who is rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4).

Our entire hope of salvation rests on this infinite mercy of the Father, on the sacrifice of Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, who died for us, and on the work of the Holy Spirit who, through the ministry of the Church, continually carries out in the world the "forgiveness of sins" (cf. Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem).

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di espressione francese

Je suis heureux d’accueillir ici le chapitre général des Sœurs de la Présentation de Marie. Chères Sœurs, je demande à Notre-Dame de stimuler la générosité de votre vie d’union au Christ et de faire fructifier votre apostolat auprès des jeunes.

* * *

Je salue le groupe de journalistes français présents à cette audience et je forme les meilleurs vœux pour leurs activités professionnelles au service de la vérité, dans le plus grand respect des personnes.

Mes vœux s’adressent également aux participants à la trente-neuvième Assemblée générale de la Confédération européenne de l’agriculture, qui s’efforcent, entre autres, d’améliorer les conditions de vie des populations agricoles, et de défendre les plus hautes valeurs humaines et spirituelles de ce milieu. Je prie le Seigneur de les assister dans leurs travaux, afin qu’ils servent au bien réel de l’humanité, cette humanité rachetée par le Christ.

A tous les pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française ici présents je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

I wish to welcome in a particular way the members of the Marian Year Pilgrimage from the Diocese of Burlington in the United States. My cordial greetings also go to the group of pilgrims from India, and to the members of the Association of the Miraculous Blessed Virgin of the Roses from Japan.

I am happy to greet the new students of the Venerable English College here in Rome. Dear Brothers in Christ, as you begin your training for the priesthood in this city made holy by the blood of countless martyrs, especially Peter and Paul, I encourage you to consider prayerfully the faithful witness of those courageous men and women. Your country too, and your own College, have been blessed with the heroic witness of numerous martyrs, people whose faith in Christ was stronger than the fear of death. I pray that each of you will also be a man of great faith, a faith that is deepened through study and prayer, a faith that throws light upon all that you say and do. In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, I urge you to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.

And to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I extend a very warm welcome.

May God bless you abundantly with his gifts of mercy and peace.

Ai pellegrini di espressione tedesca

Einen besonderen Willkommensgruß richte ich neben den vielen Pfarrgruppen an die Franziskanerinnen von Salzkotten, die an einem geistlichen Erneuerungskurs teilnehmen. Ferner auch an die heute wiederum sehr zahlreichen Jugendlichen; namentlich an den großen Pilgerzug der Ministranten und Jugendlichen in liturgischen Diensten aus der Diözese Osnabrück. Möge euer Dienst bei der Liturgie stets von einem lebendigen und frohen Glauben geprägt sein. Und sucht auch gerade ihr immer wieder neu die Gemeinschaft mit Christus im Sakrament der Versöhnung. Euch und allen Rompilgern wünsche ich einen schönen und fruchtbaren Aufenthalt in der Ewigen Stadt und erteile euch allen und euren Lieben in der Heimat von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli giunti dalla Spagna e da alcuni Paesi latinoamericani

Vaya, junto con este mensaje para todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, mi más cordial saludo de bienvenida a esta audiencia.

En particular, saludo a las Religiosas Esclavas de Cristo Rey a quienes aliento, como a todas las personas consagradas aquí presentes, a una entrega ilusionada y sin reserva a Dios, en fidelidad a la propia vocación.

Saludo igualmente a los peregrinos procedentes de Medellín, Cali, San Juan de Cuyo, Santander y Córdoba.

Imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai connazionali polacchi

Pozdrawiam serdecznie wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski: księdza Kardynała Metropolitę Wrocławskiego; księdza Biskupa pomocniczego z diecezji chełmińskiej z pielgrzymką z tejże diecezji, jak również przedstawicieli służby zdrowia z Pelplina; z kolei pielgrzymów z parafii św. Jana Chrzciciela z Zembrzyc; z parafii świętych Piotra i Pawła ze Świętochłowic; rzemieślników cechu metalowego z Gdańska; z parafii św. Krzyza i z parafii św. Antoniego w Gliwicach; członków trzeciego zakonu św. Franciszka z Góry św. Anny; rolników z diecezji gorzowskiej; współpracowników misyjnych księży pallotynów z całej Polski oraz współpracowników misyjnych sióstr pallotynek z Warszawy; Polaków z Niemiec Zachodnich z Duisburga i Oberhausen; grupie Polaków-Amerykanów z ukraińskiej parafii Matki Bożej w Stanach Zjednoczonych; grupę nauczycieli Logos-Tour z Poznania; pracowników centralnego szpitala kolejowego w Warszawie-Międzylesiu oraz uczestników grup turystycznych . . . Błogosławieństwo i pozdrowienie dla wszystkich uczestników tego spotkania, a także dla wszystkich waszych bliskich w Ojczyźnie.

Ad alcuni gruppi italiani

Saluto con gioia i pellegrini dell’arcidiocesi di Taranto, venuti a Roma in gran numero per l’Anno Mariano e che questa mattina hanno partecipato nella Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore ad una solenne concelebrazione in onore della Beata Vergine del Rosario.

Rivolgo uno speciale pensiero all’Arcivescovo, Mons. Guglielmo Motolese, che oggi, nella luce di Maria, stella del cammino cristiano, ricorda il trentacinquesimo della sua consacrazione episcopale.

A tutti voi, cari fratelli e sorelle, alle vostre famiglie e alle vostre comunità, particolarmente ai giovani, agli anziani ed a chi soffre, va il mio augurio di ogni bene e l’Apostolica Benedizione, perché Cristo buon Pastore “ conforti i vostri cuori e li confermi in ogni opera e parola di bene ”.

* * *

Saluto il gruppo dei pescatori di Caorle, in provincia di Venezia. So che tra voi, cari fratelli e sorelle, vi è una particolare devozione per la Madonna dell’Angelo. Mi auguro che in questo Anno Mariano tale devozione possa avere un ulteriore impulso, per la crescita spirituale della vostra terra, ed un cammino più sereno sulla via della pace, della giustizia e del progresso umani e cristiano. Di cuore vi benedico tutti, insieme con i vostri cari.

* * *

Rivolgo altresì un saluto particolare alle socie dell’“International Inner Wheel Club” di Milano. Vi ringrazio per questa visita e, soprattutto, per la vostra benemerita dedizione a favore delle persone meno fortunate; il Signore vene dia merito e ricompensa.

Ai giovani

Mi rivolgo ora a voi, giovani qui presenti, con un cordiale ed affettuoso saluto. Desidero esortarvi alla preghiera, prendendo spunto dalla festa odierna: la festa della Beata Vergine del Rosario ci richiama alla semplice e tanto cara preghiera della tradizione cristiana, che è ricca di significato e capace di guidarci alla contemplazione delle verità divine. Il Rosario fa rivivere i misteri della vita di Cristo nell’intimo dell’anima, mediante la memoria continua della Redenzione e delle sue fasi salienti, nella luce della fede esemplare della Vergine Maria. Vi invito a riflettere con animo aperto e disponibile su questa preghiera e soprattutto a recitarla, specie durante l’Anno Mariano che stiamo celebrando.

Agli ammalati

Affido e raccomando la preghiera del Rosario anche a voi, cari malati. Percorrendo con fede i misteri della vita di Cristo, voi potete considerare in quale modo e con quanta dedizione la Vergine Maria consacrò la sua vita al divin Figlio ed alla sua opera, seguendolo sempre fino alla Croce, per condividere con lui la gloria. Potere trovare in questa preghiera mariana conforto, sostegno, luce, nella vostra pena, perché vi sarà dato di capire, guidati dalla Parola di Dio, il significato del cammino della sofferenza che redime. Vi benedico tutti con affetto.

Agli sposi novelli

Un saluto, infine, a voi, sposi novelli. Sull’esempio di Maria siete anche voi chiamati a custodire e far crescere nella vostra casa la fede ricevuta da Cristo. Come la Vergine, meditate e conservate nel vostro cuore i misteri della vita del Cristo, per crescere nella fede e saperla poi donare ai figli. Il vostro è davvero un mistero di fede all’interno della comunità familiare. Adempite questa missione ricorrendo spesso alla preghiera, specialmente a quella del Rosario, e così la vostra casa diverrà immagine di una Chiesa domestica.

Su tutti voi la mia Benedizione.

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