A reflection on the Sunday readings for April 18, 2021 — The Third Sunday of Easter
It is rare for all three Sunday liturgy readings to have a common theme. Today is one of those rare Sundays. Sin, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation—we discover that all of these themes are prominent in each reading, in one way or another.
What sins? Repentance from what? Reconciliation—but how? We understand the meaning of personal sin, personal repentance, and personal forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But there are also social sins, social repentance, and social reconciliation—sins that affect us as the human family. Today I could easily have chosen to write a feel-good reflection about sin and reconciliation, and everybody would go home happy. But I am going to take a cue from Peter, in today’s First Reading (Acts 3:14-15) and muster the courage to reflect on the more complicated, complex, and difficult aspect of sin and reconciliation—the social dimension.
In the past week there was yet another mass shooting, this time at in Indianapolis. Eight people who reported to work on Thursday are now dead. This was the 147th mass shooting (meaning at least 4 people were killed) in 2021. I understand that depending where on the ideological spectrum we belong, our opinion on these social matters may differ.
Another area of grave concern in our culture—and regardless of the perspective from which you think about the issue—is the reality that race plays a role in law enforcement. This is a matter of life and death for Black Americans.
Let us not forget that there are more than 15,000 unaccompanied immigrant children in overcrowded detention centers in the US. Children have been dropped over the border fence by traffickers. Imagine this—for desperate parents, dropping children over the wall into an unknown future seems better than the future they believe they can provide.
Finally, there is the hate! The hate just won’t go away. Divisions are becoming more pronounced and human life is becoming more expendable. Add to that the fact that even with all the ravages of nature, the urgency to care about God’s creation is simply not there. I am not certain how to define these things, but there are very strong biblical justifications to call these realities sin—social sin.
There are many ways to define sin. One definition of sin is, “missing the mark.” Just as an arrow that misses its target, people can make choices that take their lives into directions very different than they are meant to go. I tend to personally define sin as “a rupture in relationships: with God, with others, with myself, and with creation.” However, having laid out these very serious personal and social sins in the introduction, today I would like to define sin as, “destroying God’s vision for the world and humanity.”
When Jesus began his ministry, he laid out a vision of the kingdom of God. The foundation of his kingdom was love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. It would lead to a world where justice, peace, and goodwill would abound. But Scripture testifies that Christ became the victim of the very things from which he came to turn humanity away. Hate, pure hate, prejudice, division, betrayal, violence, brutal violence sealed his fate. They killed the Son of God. As Peter proclaims in today’s First Reading, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death” (Acts 3:14-15). They not only killed Jesus, but they also destroyed God’s vision for a new beginning, a new kingdom, a new people, and a new creation. How tragic!
Therefore today, I want to reiterate that hate is a sin. Senseless prejudices and systemic racism are sins. Creating and festering division and discord are sins. Taking life—whether in the womb, or at the end of life, through violence, or at a traffic stop simply because of someone’s racial identity—are sins. They are sins—social sins—because they destroy God’s vision for the world.
The Need for Repentance
Jesus’ entire mission was to reconcile humanity to God. But reconciliation requires repentance. Peter proclaims in today’s First Reading, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19). How do we define repentance? Just as in the past I have defined sin as a rupture in relationships, I have defined repentance as recognizing our need to restore our relationships with God, others, self, and creation.
Today, though, I want to define repentance as our common sorrow for destroying God vision for the world. Repentance means that we acknowledge that we are undoing the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Repentance means that we recognize that we have become stumbling blocks to the unfolding of God’s kingdom—a kingdom of life, love, mercy, justice, and peace.
We need to be repentant. We must repent if hate, in any form, is present in our lives. Whether we have hatred toward people of different races, ethnicities, languages, cultures, religions, immigrants, political opponents, or even enemies—hate cannot be part Christian living. In fact, Christ’s demand is to love them all. We must repent if we lack reverence and regard for life in any way, at any stage, and in any context. We must repent if we lack remorse for the lives lost to gun violence, lives lost while enforcing laws, or lives lost as people seek safe places of refuge. We must repent if we consider one race superior to another. We must repent for collectively destroying God’s beautiful creation. We must repent for failing to be sacraments of Christ’s mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness. For failing to live lives of generous self-giving, let us repent.
Daring toward Forgiveness
It is when we find ourselves in sin and express the remorse that leads to repentance that we finally can get to forgiveness. Forgiveness of sin is one of the fruits of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ resurrection appearance to his disciples that we find in today’s Gospel, he said, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations” (Lk 24: 46-47). In today’s Second Reading we hear John say to his community, “My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:1-2). Notice how freely and easily John makes God’s forgiveness available to all. It is time. Recognizing our sin, in true sorrow and repentance, let us confidently appeal for God’s forgiveness and be reconciled to God.
Forgiveness and reconciliation have two dimensions—the past and the future. Genuine forgiveness is when we graciously accept God’s mercy for our past failures and turn to face a new direction for the future. Let us unite ourselves totally with the Risen Christ who continues God’s redeeming work through us. Jesus defeated hate, violence, death, and destruction. Let us make that our mission. Let us put aside every everything that contributes to hate, violence, prejudice, and injustice. Let us become ambassadors of God’s kingdom—a kingdom of love, mercy, reconciliation, justice, and peace. Let us stop destroying the Earth. Let us speak up against the social sins of our time and become spokespersons for the Kingdom of God.
Every Eucharist is a Sacrament of forgiveness and healing. May the Eucharist be a new beginning of the vision and life to which God invites us in Christ. Amen.
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