Sunday, September 15, 2013
Perdido y Encontrado
+ + +
Sin is a very real part of all of our lives. The writer of Exodus (32:7-14) speaks about how the people of Israel acted “perversely”, turned aside, cast an idol for themselves and worshiped it. Each of us could admit, along with St. Paul who wrote to Timothy (1:12-17) that “...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” And in Luke’s Gospel (15:1-10) Jesus is criticized for associating with “sinners”, yet he speaks openly and boldly in their behalf. Oftentimes it may seem to us that “the sinner” is the other person, but the only “sinner” whom you and I really know firsthand is our self. St. John reminds us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
“Those who are pure in spirit”, ordinary people like us, feel uncertain about being righteous. We question our own motives, and we worry about betraying ourselves. In general, we don’t commit serious evil. Unpleasant as it may be, our sense of personal sin is exactly what keeps us from being too selfish. Even though that feels quite painful at times, it is an enormous blessing and is an effective safeguard against doing serious evil.
The Scriptures today, however, help us to reflect on the “common” variety of sin. One of the best descriptions of sin is found in the Book of Common Prayer: “Sin is seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.”
In the Bible there are two major expressions for sin: 1) “missing the mark”, thus losing a reward or prize; and 2) “living lawlessly”, without guidelines. It implies that a person lives irresponsibly, and lives as a fool. Ultimately, sin is selfishness. It is the attempt to make oneself Number One. Such selfishness misuses and distorts our relationships: with God, with other people, and with God’s whole creation.
The incredibly Good News is that, just as God worked in the life of St. Paul, and in many other lives throughout the centuries, so God holds out to you and me the gift of eternal life, simply because the patient, loving Jesus wants us to have it. This love of God is revealed to us in Jesus who loved us so much, who opened his arms to us, and who died for us on a cross. As someone has said, the grandeur of Christianity and of the Church is that of its open arms.
God asks only that I humbly acknowledge, admit and confess my sin, and that I willingly open myself to God’s strength, God’s favor, God’s grace in Jesus, in order to change me. The object of God’s mercy must be a sinner: a person who acknowledges the need to be saved. Otherwise, God is powerless. Our release from human weakness and selfishness, and all their consequences, is possible only because of God in Christ, because of Divine Grace and Mercy overflowing on our behalf. That was the whole meaning of the mission of Jesus. And that is our mission: to make genuine compassion, mercy, and love a reality for our sisters and brothers.
How can it be that this mercy of Jesus is so accessible, so unconditional? The perfect patience of Jesus is the model for all who believe in him for eternal life. If you believe Jesus, if you believe that his mercy works this way, then you and I will do likewise and incorporate such mercifulness into our own actions.
In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15 consists of stories of God’s overwhelming mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost prodigal son. God is so overjoyed when whatever or whoever is lost is found. It is as if God’s mercy and forgiveness must find expression in pure unbounded celebration and sharing. Today’s parables of the lost sheep and of the woman’s lost coin stress calling the “righteous” to celebrate and join in praise of God’s unlimited patience, mercy, caring and love, rather than calling sinners to repentance. If you and I are resistant and unwilling to join in celebrating God’s mercy to others, then we exclude ourselves from God’s grace, just like the grumblers among the Pharisees and the Scribes.
Author Corita Kent says: “Evil may be not seeing well enough, So perhaps to become less evil we need only to see more, see what we didn’t see before…” May God help us to see with the eyes of the merciful Christ!