Acts 2:14, 22-33; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35
'You Catholics, you're always talking about sin. Why can't you give it a rest? People are sick and tired of hearing about sin. Why don't you get with the Good News?'
What would you answer if these words were said to you?
The truth of the matter is they are right, we are always talking about sin; just look at the readings today. And even when we aren't actually using the three letter word itself we are tirelessly implying in all our talk of forgiveness and mercy and Christian struggle that sin is for us a major preoccupation.
Well, I would answer that Catholics talk about sin in the same way as doctors are always talking about disease. I'd like to see someone make this accusation against the medical profession: You doctors, you're always talking about disease. Why can't you give it a rest? People are sick and tired of hearing about bad health. Why don't you get with the good news?
The reality is that sensible people know that good health is achieved by avoiding bad health habits just as holiness involves the avoidance of sin.
Certainly St Peter makes no apology as he gets to work on his listeners in the First Reading today:
- you handed Jesus over
- you disowned him
- you accused the Holy One
- you demanded the reprieve of a murderer
- you killed the prince of life
Peter hammers home his accusations seemingly without mercy. No wonder the Sanhedrin later complained, with more than a little understatement (Acts 5:28): 'You ... seem determined to fix the guilt of this man's death on us.'
That was their problem, really, wasn't it? They refused to acknowledge their sin, and so, unfortunately, they remained stuck in it.
Now imagine yourself standing with the other Jews in the Portico of Solomon listening to Peter's address. He begins:
- You are Israelites - and you might find yourself thinking - So are you.
- You handed him over - and you might say to yourself - Well, you ran away.
- You disowned him - and you say to yourself - So did you, three times.
It's ironic how much like them Peter really is, and how much like him we all really are. Even when Peter tells them that Jesus foretold they would do all this, we can smile to ourselves and say: Well, he foretold that you would deny him, Peter. You didn't believe him; you didn't understand the prophets and you didn't know what you were doing either.
And yet Peter is far from being unaware of his sin. Do you think that when I stand up here in my white alb and stole and chasuble that I don't realise that I'm a sinner like the rest of you? Peter has acknowledged his sin; he has wept bitterly for his cowardly denial; he has three times, in front of the others, affirmed his love for the Lord, and he has been forgiven.
After his bold accusations his tone and his words change abruptly: Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing; this was the way God carried out what he had foretold, when he said through all his prophets that his Christ would suffer. Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.
Peter calls the murderers of Jesus Christ 'brothers' and he does it deliberately. Chastened by the painful memory of his own guilt Peter would never place himself above them; indeed, we are all brothers in sin.
Having pointed out their sin (the difficult duty of all who wish to bring others to Christ) he now shows them that the door to God's mercy and forgiveness stands open. It's as though Peter were saying, 'Brothers, together, you and I, every one of us must repent. We must turn away from our sins and turn to God and he will wipe them away.'
It all begins with this painful, personal recognition of sin; we all have to come to the point of saying 'I have sinned, I am a sinner'. With God's grace, with humility and understanding it's not hard to do, but it must be done.
Finally let me put in a plug for the Sacrament of Reconciliation - it's the way Jesus has instituted to have grave sins 'wiped away'.