The risen life: forgiving sins
1 Peter 1.3-9
There is something very puzzling in today’s Gospel reading. Do you know what I mean? It’s this: the risen Lord Jesus says,
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
That could sound like we have the authority to determine which sins can be forgiven and which cannot. And it seems that is the way the Roman Catholic system of confession to a priest works. A Catholic priest has the authority to forgive the sins of those who come to him—or not to forgive them. In other words he has the authority to retain them. Is that what this means? I hope not.
Perhaps there are other ways of interpreting this saying. I think there are…
But firstly, the Catholic Church is right; only a priest can forgive sins. But the Catholic Church is also wrong, because we are a priestly community. Friends, each one of us is given authority to forgive others. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ to another person. And you know, when you do that, you are being a ‘priest’.
A priest is someone who links other people to God; it’s what a priest does and is. So we are a priestly community. We who make up the Body of Christ are a priesthood because we connect others to God.
So praying for others is a priestly thing to do. It’s priestly because we link another person to God through our prayer.
We especially link another person to God when we forgive them. And guess what?—we also link ourselves more firmly to God. It’s just the Lord’s Prayer in action:
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
A community that has the risen Lord Jesus in its midst is a forgiving, priestly community. Its members connect one another to God through forgiving, accepting and praying for one another.