I wonder what went through the blind man’s mind during this encounter with Jesus? First he suffers the indignity of having mud and spit put on his eyes. Then he doesn’t even seem to be healed! Jesus tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. I bet he was sorely tempted to stop at the nearest well, wash the mud and spit off, and be done with it. But he doesn’t do that – he goes to Siloam, and because of his act of obedience, his sight is restored.
Sometimes, we can recoil in horror from an encounter with Jesus, too. The trouble is, Jesus wants to open the eyes of our hearts, to see ourselves and our behaviour as he sees us. And His ways are not our ways! But the horror of what Jesus confronts us with gives way to the joy of new and clearer sight.
Too many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking that a sin is “something I do, which hurts another person.” If that were true, we could edit our parish prayer to say: “Here I am, Lord, I come to do what I like as long as I don’t hurt anyone.” No. A sin is something which we do knowing that God has asked us not to do it – or a deliberate failure to do what God has asked us to do. It’s always a good idea to ask ourselves, “If the same circumstances came up again, would I be able to make a different choice?” – if the answer is no, that we had no freedom to do otherwise, then we are not looking at a sin. A sin is always a free choice to do wrong.
Of course, it goes without saying that it is a sin to choose to do something that deliberately harms other people.
It is a sin to post unthinking comments on Facebook or some other social media site which needlessly criticise or embarrass other people.
If we have enough income to spend on luxuries, and we understand how FairTrade works, it would be a sin for us to choose to buy regular goods without caring about whether there is a FairTrade alternative available.
It is a sin to buy or promote anything pornographic, because this creates a demand which requires someone to use their body in a way which is both degrading and immodest.
And yes, these are the kind of sins which we can and should take to confession. Not because they are mortal sins – though they might be, if they were committed in total freedom and clear knowledge of how deeply they would harm others. Rather, we should take these and similar sins to confession because God offers us something more than mere forgiveness; God guarantees grace, some divine help so we can begin to raise our standards!
As we mature in faith we might realise that confession is not only a dumping ground for sins but also a moment to celebrate our decision to live a better life. Yes, confession is always there for those bad habits which trip us up time and time again, for which God will always encourage us to get up again and have another go at overcoming them. But in Lent we should also look at ourselves more deeply. For example, if we come to realise that we can do good and bless others by choosing FairTrade goods when we shop, we could celebrate this conversion of heart by acknowledging this to a priest. We would then receive God-given help to live out our new standards, and that is the grace given in confession.
On the other hand, we also need to know how to tell apart sins from temptations. Feelings are not sins. Unwanted thoughts are not sins. We may have angry or lustful thoughts. They only become sins when we start encouraging them. We may have distractions when we are trying to pray. These also are temptations – we only sin once we realise what we are doing and choose to run with the distracting thought rather than the prayer. Remember, a good test for whether something is a sin is this: “Next time, could I choose to do things differently?”
The letter to the Ephesians invites us to “discover what the Lord wants of you.” To know fully what God wants of us, we must be aware of the teaching of Jesus.
When he was asked difficult questions about marriage, Jesus pointed back to Genesis. “God has a plan,” he said, “that one man and one woman should come together and God will join them in an unbreakable bond.” This is why the Church teaches that when two Christians freely and sincerely make wedding vows to one another, no-one on earth has the power to undo this; and the only proper place for intimate relationships is within the security of such a bond. Almost all the Church’s teaching on sexual morality can be traced back to this one teaching point of Jesus. If we have done anything else, Jesus asks us to repent and confess our sins to a priest.
When he was asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus pointed to the Old Testament law which said we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The First Commandment is that we should have no other God. This is why, in last week’s newsletter, I published a short reflection on whether we had turned to any form of fortune-telling, or the kind of new-age medicine which claims to work by channelling spiritual energy. If we have done anything like this, Jesus asks us to repent and confess our sins to a priest.
In recent weeks, I have reminded us of the Lord’s challenging teaching that we must love and forgive our enemies. This is so serious that God will only forgive our sins in the measure that we forgive those who have sinned against us. If we have been lukewarm in blessing our enemies, or failed to do so altogether, Jesus asks us to repent and confess our sins to a priest.
So allow me to recap: The Light Is On For You – there is a priest ready to hear your confession – every Wednesday night 7 pm until 8 pm in most churches across Cardiff and I am also available on Saturdays 5.15-5.45 pm or will be pleased to make an appointment at a time that suits you – I can even do a home visit if health, childcare or transport difficulties make it difficult for someone to come to the Church for confession.
Today’s Bible readings remind us to “have nothing to do with the futile works of darkness… The things which are done in secret are things that ashamed even to speak of” – but we are told that God judges the heart. You cannot hide your failures from God. Yes, it’s embarrassing to name your sins out loud, even to a priest in confession. You look at the dark parts of yourself and say “Ych a fi!” You are tempted not to go to confession – it’s too shameful – but to wash at the nearest well instead by whispering to God in your heart. But go to the pool of Siloam – go to confession to a priest – and Jesus will open your eyes and your heart, and you will be filled with light. Our loving God even makes us uncomfortable enough to turn from darkness and be filled with light. What better reason than that this to praise God today, Laetare Sunday? The light is on for you!