In season three of Netflix's The Blacklist FBI agent Elizabeth Keen remembers something horrific she did in her past and finally understands why the mysterious Raymond Reddington (Red) was trying to keep it from her.
"I was trying to be your sin-eater," he tells her.
The concept of a sin-eater comes from an actual medieval job description – it was a person who was called upon before a funeral to eat a ritual meal and say a prayer at the graveside in order to magically take away the sins (bad actions and thoughts) of a person or household.
Of course, such people had no real power to take upon themselves other people's wrongdoings or absolve their sin. Similarly, although Red has Elizabeth's memory erased and covers up her crime in order to try to keep her from the consequences and guilt of her actions, 'the truth will out' as the saying goes.
Jesus Christ also claimed to be a sin-eater - one who could do away permanently with a person's sins.
However, His claims were backed with demonstrable power.
In the story found in the Bible in Matthew chapter 9, a group of friends bring Jesus a paralysed man lying on a pallet. The house where Jesus is teaching is so crowded that they can't get in, so, in desperation they climb up onto the flat roof, remove part of the thatch and lower their mate down on his bed right to Jesus' feet.
The first thing Jesus says to the man is "Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven". The religious leaders get irate and mutter: "Who does this guy think he is? Only God can forgive sins."
This is true. Only God can forgive sins. So, to prove that He in fact is God, Jesus asks them: "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic 'your sins are forgiven you' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?"
Of course it is easier to say 'I forgive your sins' because nobody can see if that really has taken place, but to show them that He did have the power to wipe out this man's wrongdoings, Jesus turned to the man and said 'Get up, pick up your bed, and walk'. And he did!
This paper is filled with stories of people who have turned to Christ to have their sin 'eaten' and have found freedom from guilt and deep peace as a result. The effectiveness of that 'sin-eating' has also been proven by the way their lives have then radically changed; they have been able to 'get up and walk' out of some very bad situations.
Although in this life sinners might still have to live with the consequences of some of their actions, they know beyond doubt that in the eyes of God those sins are gone.
Isaiah 1:18 in the Bible says "Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
And Psalm 103:12 says "As far as the east is from the west, so far has [God] removed our transgressions from us."
Christians call this being 'justified' – being made 'just as if I'd never sinned'. The sin is 'eaten'; it is gone.•