Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sin and Repentance: A Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rev. Fr. Kyle L. Doustou                                                           23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

September 6-7, 2014
Sin and Repentance

There’s a story about a young monk who failed to wake up one morning at the hour of prayer. The Devil, in a disguise, woke him and told him to get up and go pray. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the young monk asked, “Who are you?” The Devil said in reply, “It doesn’t matter who I am…I’m getting you up and telling you to pray, which is a good thing, is it not?” Becoming very suspicious, the monk replied, “Yes, it’s a good thing…but I think that you’re the Devil and so you must have some bad motive. You’re the tempter…that’s your business…so I want to know why it is that you woke me up to go pray.” With a smirk on his face, the Devil replied, “Well, if you had slept and forgotten your prayers, would have been sorry for it afterwards and gone to confession; but if you go on as you are now, and do not neglect your prayers, after awhile you will become so satisfied with yourself that it will be worse for you than if you had missed your prayers and repented. God loves your fault mixed with repentance more than your virtue seasoned with pride.”

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Luke 5:32) And in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “For the Son of Man has come to save what is lost.” (Matthew 18:11). We spend so much of our time, at least I do, trying to justify ourselves. “I’m not that sinful of a person. My sins aren’t that bad. I’m not a murderer or a thief, so all in all I’d say I’m a pretty good person.” How many times has that record played in our head and affected our lives? The reality is, it’s not nonsense. The more time we spend justifying ourselves, the more time we spend over-exaggerating how good we are, the less opportunity Jesus has to do what He came to do. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” It’s like a person who is sick and has convinced himself that it’s not that bad. There’s not a thing in the world that a doctor can do for him until he admits that he’s sick and asks for treatment…then, and only then, can the work of healing begin. The same is true in our Christian lives. The failure to recognize our sinfulness results in the failure to seek healing from the only One Who can justify us: Christ Himself.

This is where the example of the Pharisees throughout the Gospels becomes very important. The sins of the Pharisees were not qualitatively worse than anyone else’s…in fact, in the grand scheme of things, the Pharisees were very careful to observe the Law and to avoid sin as much as possible. So it wasn’t their sinfulness that got Jesus so fired up all the time…it was their inability to recognize their own sins, their own brokenness, and their own need for healing. This renders Christ useless to them, because He has come to call sinners. They missed the memo that Saint Paul gives us in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The Pharisees were perfectly willing to admit the reality of sin, just in other people…they were blind to the fact that they were just as broken and in need of healing.

In our world today, and even in some facets of the Church, it has been deemed inappropriate, improper, or just plain impolite to bring up the notion of sin and how it affects us. We don’t want people to feel bad about themselves, and so by focusing on how great we are all the time and how great everyone else is, we avoid the topic of sin. This is part of the human condition…we just don’t like anything that is unpleasant. And sin is unpleasant. But I wonder if this comes more from apathy and a distaste for what is unpleasant or more from fear. If we can’t justify ourselves, if we can’t fix ourselves, if we have to rely on someone else to heal us, then we’ve lost control. And because of our pride, nothing is more frightening than losing control. Think of the alcoholic who admits, for the first time, that he has a problem. The first step in the 12-step AA program is the admission that he is powerless over alcohol and the second step is the admission that there is a greater power needed restore him to wholeness. These steps are necessary no matter how severe or noticeable his alcoholism is. It’s not just for the guy who was found in the ditch drunk, but also for the woman who, in the privacy of her own home, can’t function without a drink. The same is true for sin. Whether we’re “big” sinners or “little” sinners, we are affected by a disease over which we have no power and are in desperate need of help from One Who has the power to heal. And in order for this healing to begin, we have to admit that we need it. “I’m Father Kyle and I am sinner…and I am sorry.” It’s unpleasant, it’s even at times embarrassing, but these are the words the Lord hears…and in His power as the Son of God, He can and does restore us. He has come for sinners and for none else.

In our Gospel today, we are faced with the reality of sin…not only in our lives but in the lives of our brothers and sisters. Just as illness affects not only a sick person but those around him, sin affects and infects all of the people of God. A person with a cold, for example, sneezes and coughs…if he doesn’t take the proper precautions, his illness will spread like wild fire. He needs to admit that he has cold, seek out the proper treatment, and guard himself. Each one of us, affected by sins great and small, public and private alike, pose a similar danger to each other. The more entrenched in sin I become, the more I will begin hurting others and leading others into my sins. Think about it…if I’m a gossiper, I’ll require an audience. If I look at pornography, I’ll require the images of other people. If I use contraception, I bring my spouse down along with me. If I’m angry and cruel, I teach my children to be the same way. Sin is like a disease…it doesn’t stay still; it wants to grow and spread. And this is precisely why our Lord tells the early Church in today’s Gospel how to handle it: it has to be nipped in the bud or it will infect everyone else.

Sin is an unpleasant thing to talk about. But if we don’t talk about it, not just on occasion but regularly, then how can we talk about Jesus? He came to call sinners. If you’re not sinner, then why are you here? What does Jesus have to offer you? Think about the words offered to that young monk…“God loves your fault mixed with repentance more than your virtue seasoned with pride.” Confession lines are short…let’s make them longer. Let’s work hard on not justifying ourselves and pretending that we’re perfectly fine. Let’s admit that sometimes, we can be downright rotten…I know I sure can. And then, let’s go to Christ so that He can make us whole again, so that He can turn our sorrow into pure joy, so that He can make us free.

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