Friday, December 14, 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C (Gospel: Luke 3:10-18) Forgiveness and repentance

Every time I celebrate the mass there is one line more than any other that seems to stay in my mind.  It is the last line of the prayer the priest says over the chalice at the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my blood.  It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.’  That phrase ‘so that sins may be forgiven’ is really what the whole mass is about, and indeed what the whole of Jesus life was about: ‘so that sins may be forgiven.’

Jesus came among us so that our sins could be taken away, so that we could be healed.  That fact alone should give us great courage because it means that God is totally for us, even when we have fallen into sin.  The Lord is not interested in our sin, He is interested in us.  He wants us to be healed, to be at peace, to be happy and to reach our full potential.  ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’ (Phil 4:4).  And that is also why He challenges us to repent and to keep coming back to God, no matter what happens, because God knows much better than we do that sin is the one thing that can block us from God and God is ultimately our happiness.  If we lose God we will also lose our happiness, because nothing else can fulfil us.

There is a powerful story in the Old Testament about King David.  It has all the ingredients of a good movie.  David—who is now a very powerful king with everything he could ask for—is walking one day on the roof of his house and he sees a beautiful woman in a nearby garden taking a bath.  He asks who she is and he is told that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.  But because he is king and he is used to getting his own way, he has her brought to him and he sleeps with her.  Some time later she sends a message to him to tell him that she is pregnant.  Now he is afraid because he knows he is going to be found out.  So he sends for her husband Uriah, who is away at war fighting for him.  When Uriah comes David asks him how the war is going, how the morale is among the men, etc.  Later he invites him to dinner with him and then he sends him away and says ‘Go home to your wife and tomorrow I’ll let you return to the battle.’  But Uriah doesn’t go to his house.  Perhaps he is suspicious.  Instead he sleeps at the door of the palace with the servants. 

The next day when David finds out that he didn’t go home to his wife he invites him again to come and eat with him.  This time he gets Uriah drunk and then tells him to go home to his wife, but again Uriah sleeps at the gate of the palace.  So the following day David sends Uriah back to the battle with a letter to his senior officer telling him to place Uriah in the thick of the battle and then to pull back so that he is killed.  So Uriah goes back to the war carrying his own death warrant and he is killed.

So we have lust, adultery, lies, betrayal and murder; quite a list of evil, all committed by the so-called ‘great’ King David.  But because God loves David He doesn’t let him away with it and so he sends the prophet Nathan along to David, who tells him the following story: Nathan says to David, ‘There was once a rich man who lived in a city.  He had all he wanted: huge farms, many servants etc.  There was also a poor man in the same city who had just one little lamb.  And he loved the lamb like one of his own children.  One day a stranger came to the rich man, but instead of taking one of his own flock, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and had him killed for the meal.’  When David heard this he jumped up in a rage and said, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die.’  And Nathan says to David: ‘You are the man.’

Now David is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel and the reason is because of what he does next.  When David hears the Prophet Nathan’s accusation he says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’  David was powerful enough to be able to do anything he wanted, but when God challenges him he is big enough to confess that he has done wrong and he repents of the sin.

It is because God loves us that He challenges us to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent of it, so that we can remain close to him.  The Lord doesn’t want our downfall.  On the contrary, the Lord wants us to be able to live in peace, which is why He offers us the extraordinary gift of his mercy and forgiveness through confession.  And we can have this gift as often as we ask for it, but we must ask for it.  Sadly many of us have come to see confession as a kind of burden, or as something inflicted on us.  But this is to see it completely backwards.  Confession is an extraordinary gift that God has given us, so that we can be free and live in peace, because that is what God wants for us.

The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins.  ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church... Whoever’s sins you forgive they are forgiven; whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained.’  And now the Lord continues to offer us that forgiveness through the priesthood which is a wonderful thing because it is a very concrete way of knowing, through another human being, that our sins are completely forgiven.  We need that concreteness and God knows that.

As we watch the chaos of our own society around us and the evil that seems to continue to grow, the best way we can begin to bring about change is by repenting ourselves.  We ask God’s forgiveness for our own sins.  That is the way to get ready for the coming of Jesus.  That is the way to begin to improve life in our families, our workplaces and our world.  We must begin with ourselves.

This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven.’

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