THOUGHTS FOR TODAY: WISDOM 11:22-12:2; PSALM 144: 2; THESSALONIANS 1:11-2:2; LUKE 19:1-10
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner." But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:1-10)
The Forgiveness of Sns In the first two chapters of the Bible we are presented with inspired images of man and his world coming from the creative hand of God. In the third chapter there is narrated the story of the appearance of a tremendous setback — sin. Man is created, and placed in the Garden but then rebels against his divine Benefactor. The inspired text shows us that sin, suffering and evil in the world did not come from the hand of the Creator — it came from man himself. It came from man’s own choice and decision to accede to the temptation of Satan. All went instantly awry, and the result is that man, the world’s master, has the fundamental and mortal problem of sin. Sin, the root cause of all man’s problems, if unchecked will lead to eternal damnation. Now, the modern situation is that people tend not to recognise sin. It is the great modern blindness. They see sin in others perhaps, though they call it by some other name such as wrongdoing or crime. But personal sin as such, which is to say, an offence against God — this they tend not to recognise. If they do recognise that God is offended by things that we continually do, they tend to think that this does not matter much anyway. This is because God does not matter much. Therefore we are not really sinners, and if we are — well, so what? Sin is not important — there are other things that matter far more. What matters more than God is this world, and it is this world which must not be upset. And so modern man tends not to believe or at least not take at all seriously what Christ has told us, and what the Church passes on to us, the immensely important doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. In St Luke's Gospel scene of the conversion of Zacchaeus the senior tax collector (Luke 19:1-10), Zacchaeus was very conscious that he was a sinner: he had a sense of sin. In this he was not a modern man, but in this he is a teacher of modern man. He responded to our Lord’s offer of friendship by repenting. He knew he was a sinner, and because of his contact with Jesus Christ he came to believe in the forgiveness of sins. I suspect that Zacchaeus was a well-known member of the infant Church.
Luke points to Zacchaeus and says, here is a convert from sin who became a true lover of Jesus Christ. He learnt the fact and the doctrine of the forgiveness of sin. Every time we profess our Catholic Faith in the Creed, which we do after the homily at Sunday Mass, we proclaim our belief in the forgiveness of sins. But before we profess this faith in God’s forgiveness of sin, we state that we believe in Jesus Christ and his salvation, in the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Catholic Church. These doctrines are the foundation of our belief in the forgiveness of sins. Belief in the forgiveness of our sins is intimately connected with our belief in the action of the Holy Spirit, who forgives our sins in the ministry and life of the Church. On the very evening of the day he rose from the dead, Our Lord grants to his apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit: especially to forgive sins. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” our Lord said, “whose sins you forgive they are forgiven, whose sins you retain they are retained” (John 20: 22-23). It was the first ministry the risen Jesus gave to his Apostles when they received the Holy Spirit from him. If we believe in Christ, if we believe in the Holy Spirit, if we believe in the Holy Catholic Church, we should believe in the forgiveness of sins — and with real conviction. At our Baptism, we receive this gift of the Holy Spirit and with this gift comes the first and full forgiveness of our sins in a manner so complete that there remains in us nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offences committed by our own will. Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no-one from the weakness of nature and the proneness to sin that is the effect of Adam’s sin. Thus it is that sin makes its re-entry into the soul of the baptized person, because in his weakness he goes on to choose to sin, either venially or mortally. Because of this, God bestowed a further mercy. Our Lord gave to the Apostles the power to forgive sins committed after Baptism. This power given to the Apostles to forgive post-baptismal sin is handed on to bishops and priests and administered in the Sacrament of Penance.
Let us ask our Lord to help us gain a new starting point in our spiritual lives, which is a real conviction that we are sinners and need the forgiveness of God. Let us ask our Lord to help us to be as conscious of our sins and as ready to repent as was Zaccaeus when our Lord greeted him. Let us resolve to practise a daily examination of conscience, daily acts of sorrow for sin, frequent and regular confession, and to practise an apostolate of bringing to others the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. That is to say, let us make this doctrine a living conviction in our lives.