3rd Sunday of Easter Year B
Forgiveness and repentance.
Do we have to confess our sins to be forgiven? In truth, we do not. God gifted us with seven Sacraments, through which the grace of God flows to us. Of the seven, three are associated with forgiveness of sins – The Sacraments of Baptism, Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation. On Baptism, St Peter taught us, “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:38). On Anointing of the Sick, St James, another Apostle of our Lord, taught us, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” (Jms 5:14-15) On both of these Sacraments, we do not have to utter or even acknowledge our sins. So, of the three Sacraments through which God forgive our sins, only one – Reconciliation – involves us facing up to our sins.
This is convenient for a few reasons. Firstly, we are proud people. We do not like people to tell us we are wrong. What we dislike even more is admit to ourselves that we are wrong, which is the essence of repentance. Secondly, we are ashamed of our sins. What we are ashamed of, we often do not want to face up to. We rather sweep our sins under carpet and pretend we have done nothing wrong. Thirdly, we are ignorant. We often err without even knowing that we err. This is because we do not take time to read and contemplate on God’s word; to form our conscience. It is convenient that our sins may be forgiven without us having to face up to them. For we are proud, shameful and ignorant people.
Why is it that we do not have to face up to our sins to be forgiven? The Second Reading this week explains, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (verse 1-2) Jesus has atoned for our sins – our sins are completely and forever forgiven. Such is the mercy of God. God’s mercy extends to us even while we are proud, shameful and ignorant.
So why is that when John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 3:2) He attracted a large crowd. The Scripture says, “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mt 3:5-6) Even while St Peter taught about forgiveness of sin through baptism, he started by urging repentance: “Repent, be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:38). My brothers and sisters, the truth is, God does not need me to repent in order to forgive me. I do not repent for the sake of God. I repent for the sake of myself.
Am I a sinner? Are there evil things I have done that I am too proud to admit? Are there evil things I have done that I am too ashamed admit? Are there evil things I have done that I am too ignorant to acknowledge? If I am saying to myself now, “I did some wrong things, but I wouldn’t call them evil.” Then my pride is deceiving me. My sins hurt everyone around me – not just my enemies, but my loved ones and myself as well. By my sins, I cause others to fall into sin, to fall into hurt. To stop the hurt, I need to acknowledge what I have done is wrong. I need to repent. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8-10) Only when I approach God with a truly contrive heart that I will try to avoid the sins again. While I may not totally rid myself of the sins because of my human weaknesses, I will start to heal. Only then can I restore my relationship with God and with my brothers and sisters. That is why we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Even more so, we need to approach the Sacrament with a truly contrite heart, that we have reflected and are truly sorry for the pain and hurt we have caused. Without true repentance, we cannot break free from our sins. We can come to Reconciliation often and utter our sins to God. But without a contrite heart, we remain imprisoned by our sins.
The first step to repentance is to address ignorance. For the many of us, even those of us who are brought up in Christian families, we need to form our conscience. We need to reflect and contemplate on the Word of God regularly. Otherwise, how can I say I know Jesus? As St John said in the Second Reading, “Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist” (verse 4) Sadly, many of us are in this situation, even though we may have had a Christian education and attend church every Sunday. Or as St Peter said to the Jews in the First Reading, “But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance”. Because of their ignorance, they even put God to death!
The next step is to address pride. For our sake, Jesus the Almighty God became a man. St Paul said, Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8) Jesus humbled Himself in this way to earn our atonement. Let us learn to humble ourselves by acknowledging our sins and our faults.
Finally, we address our shame. The devil wants us to think we are not good enough for God. That God does not care, that He does not want to heal us. My brothers and sisters, we are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). God conferred upon us a dignity that no one can take away from us. We need to reclaim our identity and dignity. Be not afraid, be not ashamed. “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.” (Lk 15:4-5) Come to Jesus and let Him restore us.
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Gospel, verse 46-47) My dear friends, we are “witnesses of these things” (verse 48). Amen.