Today’s first reading and Psalm remind us that God truly and completely knows us. It’s both a consolation and a warning to be reminded that God is indeed “witness” of my “inmost self.” These passages say what I believe: I can’t hide from God (I might be inclined to pretend I can!) and I can call out, “Guide me, Lord” – I certainly do offer up that prayer of petition pretty often.
But the Gospel offers several diverse points of both consolation and warning. First is the awareness that sin will occur, as “things that cause sin will inevitably occur.” But although sin is expected, it is not accepted: “If your brother sins, rebuke him.”
Recently I taught a great piece of literature, Dante’s Inferno, in my World Literature sections. Seeing all the sinners and punishments so colorfully described, students began to think they represented all of Dante’s society, and I had to assure them that Dante would expect that most sinners would repent their sins, and thus would not wind up in the sufferings of Inferno. Today’s gospel from Luke tells us to forgive anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness, even “seven times in one day.” If Jesus can tell us sinners to be that forgiving, we can be sure that God will forgive us again and again – IF we ask!
To encourage students to connect the Inferno with their own lives, I asked them to name some sins that we see in our world today that Dante didn’t even think of. Computer crimes, identity theft, environmental pollution, racism and terrorism were named, but first each group came up with sins against children (sins like molestation, abuse and neglect.) Our gospel reading, however kindly in offering understanding and forgiveness of sins for those who repent, condemns those who mislead children, or other people of any age. To lead into the ways of sin, and away from what the Psalm called “the everlasting way,” – that’s really bad, and a particular danger to those of us with some kind of authority or influence, like teachers and parents. Guide me, Lord! – especially when my words or deeds might guide others.
What’s this about moving a mulberry tree with just a little bit of faith? We have our 21st century technology and can move trees – actually, whole mountains – but we need our miracles; we need to move hearts. We see our heroes and see what, say, Mother Teresa – or Rosa Parks, an American civil rights pioneer– could do with just a little faith. Maybe with just a little faith we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and build homes for the homeless -- build lives, communities, and The Kingdom. Guide me, Lord! Guide the heroes around me!
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