Tonight I will discuss part 2 of the confession series. Please read part 1 here if you haven’t already.
There are 3 things we need to understand about confession:
1) The ability to forgive sins was in fact given to men by Christ
2) Initially, Christ gave this ability to a handful of men
3) That authority is passed on to more people
Let’s start with the words of St. John to demonstrate that the ability to forgive sins was in fact given to men by Christ.
First though, let’s set the stage a bit. Jesus had been crucified and his apostles were scared stiff. Mary Magdalene learns that Jesus was not in the tomb and thus did what any good Catholic should in cases such as this – she went and told the Pope! I am not kidding; she went and told St. Peter. So our first pope and his pal St. John go to the tomb and see that it is empty… and the scripture says, “For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
OK, now that the scene is set let’s go to the Gospel of John and read what happens next.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (John 20:19-23).
The first thing Jesus says to them is peace. More specifically he uses the Hebrew word shalom, which is the deepest peace God can give someone. Jesus also clearly gives the authority to forgive sins to his disciples as we read in the last verse.
Some non Catholic bibles will actually place a footnote for these verses which say something to the extent of, “Obviously Jesus is not permitting the apostles to forgive sins since only God can forgive sins – see Mark 2:7.” If you have a non Catholic bible open up to these verses and check.
Let’s read Mark 2:7 to see if argument holds any validity. It reads, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?"
Wow! They may be onto something… it clearly says only God can forgive sins. However, if you read Mark 2:7 carefully you will learn that the person that makes this comment is a Pharisee! In fact this Pharisee rebukes Jesus here in this verse. The absolute worst way one of our non Catholic brothers and sisters could begin their debate is to start quoting a Pharisee who rebuked the God man himself!
Now let’s examine the second point, that Christ only gave this authority to a handful of men. Let’s visit the Gospel of Matthew to help us understand this point.
In the 10th Chapter of Matthew we read, “Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness (Matthew 10:1).” So here we see how Christ gave his disciples authority over unclean spirits.
Next, let’s look at how our Lord gave St. Peter powers to bind and loose sins which is another way of saying to forgive (loose) or not forgive (bind).
“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" (Matthew 16:18).
A few chapters later we nearly read the identical words. Only this time our Lord is giving this power to bind and loose to the other disciples. Note though how he gave this power AND the keys (Papacy) to Peter first.
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).
The book of Matthew is all about authority. Again and again we see our Lord building His church. He is also setting up how He expects His church to be run once He is no longer on earth.
Now, let’s discuss the third point - that this authority to forgive sins is actually passed on to others by the apostles, even to this present day.
After Judas killed himself the disciples needed to replace him. And we read, “Then they prayed, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place" (Act 1:24, 25).
Then again in Acts we read, “They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them” (Acts 6:6).
More examples of this apostolic succession can be found in the following verses.
- Acts 13:3
- Acts 14:23
- 1 Tim 4:14
- 2 Tim 1:1
We see these examples of laying on of hands all over scripture. And the amazing thing about our Catholic Bishops, Priests, and Deacons is the fact that their apostolic succession can be traced all the way to the apostles. This also means it can also be traced all the way to Jesus himself. How cool is that!
In the third and final part of this series we will examine the specifics of this awesome sacrament. If you have not been to confession lately and are perhaps nervous or scared I hope to reduce your anxiety helping you get back to the confessional!