Jesus, seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reason in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; ‘who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:6-7
The scribes in this story are right. Claiming to forgive sins is a big deal and no one can do it except God but they didn’t recognize their Yahweh in the face of His Son, Jesus. People will do anything to wash themselves of nagging guilt. Most refuse to run to Jesus because their own pride convinces them that they have the power to do something about it. Never has this self-sufficiency been more twisted than with the ancient practice of choosing a sin-eater within a community.
Still in existence within rural Appalachia, this ritual originated in southern England. A sin-eater was selected from among the most despised of society. Their calling would ostracize them for life. Their role was, 1.) to live in obscurity, 2.) to appear at the home of a deceased person at the time of the funeral, 3.) perch themselves at the border of the property and wait for the casket to emerge from the house, and 4.) perform the ritual of eating bread and drinking wine. All of the sins of the deceased would be transferred to the bread/wine and enter the sin eater’s body. They were believed to be the new ‘dwelling place’ of the dead’s iniquity.
Before meeting Jesus, the hymn writer, William Cowper, succumbed to a deep depression from the weight of his own guilt. While living in a mental institution, he was known to keep washing his hands and lamenting, “My guilt, my guilt. What can wash it away?” After his conversion and having looked to Jesus to wash away his sins, he wrote, “Unless the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have died with gratitude and joy.” Within weeks, he wrote the words to the hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. And sinners cleansed beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
There is only one sin-eater. Jesus. He became the despised, was shunned by His people, and took on the sins of the damned. He was the sacrifice for any who will apply His blood to their iniquity. Today, we do not need to wallow in guilt nor employ a scapegoat to bear our sins. Jesus did it – and then He said, “It is finished.”
Nagging guilt need never plague me. You are a God of closure. I repent, you forgive, and it is finished. Amen