Good and bad fight for dominance…treating others justly determines which one wins
If I can borrow an expression from Fr Ron Rolheiser OMI, when we are young, we wrestle with the devil, and when we are older, we wrestle with God. Wrestling with the devil = fighting temptations to over-indulge in pleasurable activities. Wrestling with God = the temptation to think we are smarter than God.
I guess most people have a love-hate relationship with the Sacrament of Confession.
On the LOVE side, we desire the feeling of forgiveness; the feeling of a second chance; and our penance (if properly given by the priest), is also something a very “sorry” person is happy to do as a sign of their appreciation to God for the healing and forgiveness received.
On the HATE side, we don’t like feeling embarrassed, or ashamed; we don’t like admitting our mistakes; we don’t like sharing particular sins to the priest: especially if the priest knows us! Let me share a story from a friend at an Oblate parish (not Kenya, Canada or Australia!):
“As I prepared for Confirmation (age 13), I went to confession and confessed having sexual thoughts. The priest was kind to me and off I went. On the way home, I had another sexy thought so I walked back to confess it immediately. Again, the priest was kind to me and off I went with my penance. Again, on the way home, another sexy thought came to me, so I felt I had to go back again, but felt very embarrassed. So, in the Confessional Box, I changed my voice so Father would not recognise me. Again, the priest was very kind, but as I was leaving he said: Paul, if you have another thought on the way home, just keep walking, OK?”
Now, today, as we listen to the same old story from John the Baptist about confessing our sins, I’d like to challenge us to think more deeply than our “personal sins.” The 1st Reading is more important than the Gospel (sorry if I have shocked you; and don’t tell the Bishop! Ha, ha.)
The Gospel teaches us that we are too focused on personal sins to do with our bodies, our words, personal petty failures, that we neglect the weightier matters of sin =injustice.
But the 1st Reading introduces us to God through the qualities that God wants each of us to develop: “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength,” eg. God made us sexual beings: so God is wise and understands when and why we think about sex. When we feel comfortable with God, we can be good counsellors to others.
I’m not encouraging a focus on do “what you like” sex (to continue the example), but to have a reverence for the gift it is for ourselves & others, rather than to fear it.
“a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,” We need to develop a true knowledge of God, not a superficial knowledge; and only FEAR losing our relationship with God. Meaning, we cultivate the same attitude God has about justice and faithfulness/ integrity.
When we link the three readings today, we have the two-step process of restoring our relationship with God: we confess our sins and, then, we treat others with more JUSTICE! Thereby restoring our integrity/ faithfulness. Confession does not restore our integrity: it opens the door to transformed treatment of others.
The picture of two intersecting circles poses a question: what is in the intersected part (the union of good and bad)? At first I thought, it’s where we meet God. But that would exclude God from our good (and bad!) actions. No, God is present already in the good and bad.
I suggest that the union (intersection), of our good and bad parts, is the place where JUST ACTION redeems us: our badness creates a desire for doing good; our goodness reveals what God wants of us: “to love tenderly, to act justly and walk humbly with our God” (Mic 6:8).
I’d like to finish today with a challenge for all those who are employers. To reflect on how employees are treated. I see the news in Australia is talking about many cases of exploited immigrants who come for work: underpaid, wages withheld, poor working conditions, etc.
But what about in Kenya? Do some Employers delay payment of their low paid workers? Or underpay them with no medical or retirement payments? Or demand extra hours without some form of payment (bus fare, extra meal, come later another day, etc.)?
God speaks severally in the Bible about these exact issues: beating the servants can be with a stick or a threat of dismissal [Mat 24:49]. Delaying payment can cause a poor man to not feed his family or be unable to pay for unexpected medicine for their children [Deut 24:14, Lev 19:13].
Today’s readings indicate that confessing personal little sins is only the beginning for a meaningful life: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Employers, and all of us, Christmas only really comes to those who act justly! For others, Christmas is just another day to drink.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI