The Sin Eater

May 31st, 2007 • Category: Encounters with Jesus
by Pastor Jeff

Today’s scripture: Matthew 9:2-8 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me in this passage? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Jeff Miner):

Each time I read this passage, my first thought is that the paralyzed man must have been disappointed when Jesus said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Odds are he had come to Jesus because he wanted a miracle of physical healing, not mere forgiveness.

But maybe my assumption is wrong. Maybe Jesus looked into this man’s eyes and realized he was carrying heavy guilt from some past deed that was more painful than even his physical disability. If forced to choose, maybe this man would have chosen forgiveness over healing.

Have you ever seen the movie The Sin Eater? It tells the story of a 10–year-old girl named Cadi who lived in Appalachia in the 1850s. Several years earlier, Cadi had a huge argument with her younger sister over a doll. Their Mom intervened and chastised Cadi. Upset, Cadi shouted that she hated her Mom and her sister, and ran off into the woods. She went where she was forbidden to go, doing a tight-rope walk on a tree felled over a high ravine, to reach her secret hiding place. As she reached the other side of the ravine, Cadi looked back and saw her little sister running after her. She too was now trying to tight-rope walk across the ravine. She teeters. She sways. She loses her balance. She falls . . . to her death.

Imagine Cadi’s guilt.

Desperate for relief, Cadi became obsessed with finding the “sin eater.” Sin-eating was practiced in some ancient Welsh cultures and among Welsh immigrants to the United States. Sometimes a beggar became the sin-eater; other times villages would select someone by lots. The sin-eater lived as a hermit in isolation. When someone died, he emerged from the shadows at the burial. As he emerged, mourners turned and hid their faces. No one was allowed to look into the eyes of the sin-eater lest they be cursed. Quietly the sin-eater would enter the graveyard, consume bread and wine left on the chest of the deceased, say ritual words meant to transfer the sins of the deceased to himself, then steal away. Everyone would feel a sense of relief that the sins of the deceased were gone.

So Cadi managed to find the sin-eater, and even convinced him to perform the ritual while she was still alive. But afterward she felt no different. The crushing load of her guilt remained. Before long, we see her standing on the felled tree over the ravine, ready to jump.

Perhaps that’s where the paralyzed man found himself. Perhaps he carried a burden much greater than his physical disability — some inexcusable deed that still haunted him — and he just couldn’t stand it anymore. Then he encountered Jesus, dared to look into His eyes, and felt a love that melted away years of accumulated guilt. Jesus knew what he had done, yet still said, “Your sins are forgiven.” What relief! The eternal part of him — his soul — was healed. Physical healing was truly secondary.

Thought for the day: Do you find yourself teetering on the felled tree, about to give up? Don’t! Dare to look into Jesus’ eyes and tell me what you see. “Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.”

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

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