Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Presider: J.A. Loftus, S.J.
The Talmud is the great Jewish library of oral law and tradition. It is the definitive compilation of the Rabbis interpretation of the sacred scriptures of Israel. The Talmud teaches that every human being should wear a jacket with two pockets. In one, the rabbis say, we should carry the message, “I am a worm and not even fully human.” In the other, the rabbis teach should be the message: “For me the world was made.”
Jewish wisdom has known for centuries that both sentiments are true and are true at the same time: I am not yet fully human, and yet, for me, this world was made. Christian wisdom provides 40 days out of each and every year to internalize that message and so to come to the freedom won for all creation by the life, death, and rising of Jesus Christ. We call these 40 days each year Lent.
But it is not so easy to honor the message in each pocket. For too many of us, what we think of as “our sinfulness,” our not yet even being the full human beings we are created to become, remains a paltry and cheap catalogue of peccadillos, usually having something to do with sex or not being “charitable” toward each other. Those so-called “sins” are hardly worth setting aside 40 days each year to ponder; those sins of yours or mine are hardly worth mentioning, really. Remember how James Alison put it when describing his conversion to Catholicism? He says he had to learn as a Catholic how to sin, really sin. What he had thought of as sin, he discovered, was really boringly normal.
These “little” sins are hardly the sins over which the prophet Joel says today: “Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.” These “little sins” are hardly the sins over which the Psalmist sings today: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” Just being nasty to someone does not really qualify as doing evil in God’s sight. But there is real sinfulness; you and I do share it.
There is something much bigger at stake here than my petty sinfulness, my unkindness, my frustrated sex life, or my infuriating love life. The sin that is before us always is our refusal to grow into the freedom for which we were born. The real sin, in the words of Sr. Joan Chittister, is our spiritual deformity and our private destructions; more than our pettiness, it is our profoundly mean misconstructions of other people’s motives, our willful blindness to other’s needs, and our obstinate denial of who we are called to become–before God and with each other.
She continues: “We are a people, one of whose greatest weaknesses is the inability to accept the weakness of others while we insist on the innocence of our own souls....Perhaps we cannot understand the goodness of God to us because we are so seldom that good to others. On the contrary, we want mercy for ourselves but exact justice for the remainder of humankind.” This is not theoretical; we do this to each other right here in our JUC community.
Take heed of the opening invitation of today’s liturgy: “Let us pray in quiet remembrance of our need for redemption.” We are all in need of redemption; perhaps redemption from ourselves most of all. And yet we also all gather here this evening already redeemed.
Hold onto the other pocket with the Talmud’s message: “For me the world was made.” I am redeemed and am invited again during these 40 days to become more and more my authentic self, more and more genuinely free, free in my heart, free in my soul to become who I am: the living body of Christ, a light to nations, the crowning glory of God’s creation. Free to be who I really am!
The consequence of not being free is sin. I suspect many in this community have already seen Brokeback Mountain. If not see it; if you have, see it again and reflect on the consequences of not being interiorly free, the consequences of not knowing who you really are and want to become, the tragic consequences and subsequent devastation that comes from only living in a “pretend” world. Watch carefully the price of dishonesty in yourself and with those whom you try to love.
Let this Lent be a Brokeback Lent. Let yourself feel genuinely dreadful at just how little you accept God’s invitation to be yourself, to be honest, to live more freely, to love more passionately, to even be prepared to die for those whom you love. So hold on to both pockets of your jacket and don’t ever forget both messages. Because while you are not the fully human being God created you to become, yet for you, this entire, magical and sacred world was made. Welcome to the hard journey we call Lent.