I just can’t wait, can I? Lent hasn’t started yet, but I’m going to
preach on sin.
So what is sin? A simple answer would be: something that is bad.
But it has in some way to be deliberate.
Let’s go for a dramatic example: a mother comes home, only to find
that the house has brunt down, due to one of her son’s chemistry
experiments. It was an accident. Thankfully, the son is still alive. It
would have been a lot worse if it had been deliberate. But the mother
isn’t going to say to him: “Oh well, never mind. It was only an
accident. Besides, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live
in a tent.” No. There is at least some blame to be attributed to the
aspiring Nobel chemist, who should have been aware of the risks.
So, yes, sin, for it to be a sin, has to be deliberate. I was told of
someone, who, when he was a boy, went missing. His family spent
two hours looking for him all over the place. What had actually
happened was that whilst he was asleep, he fell out of bed, and then
rolled under the bed. He got his family very worried, but it wasn’t
deliberate and so it wasn’t a sin.
What about the leper in today’s Gospel? In the first reading it said
that a leper “must live apart; he must live outside the camp”. So you
could say that he broke that rule by going to Jesus. So should he have
stayed away and never been healed? Of course not. That would
make as much sense as saying that sick people are forbidden from
going to see the doctor or turning up at the hospital. You would have
a situation like the hospital described in Yes, Prime Minister! where
all the administration is done perfectly, as there aren’t any annoying
patients getting in the way. We have to understand the purpose of the
rule, which is for human health and to avoid spreading the disease.
This can be done by isolation, but also by the sick person being cured.
So, the leper is healed, but he is told by Christ Himself to keep it
quiet. But he doesn’t. We don’t know why. Was it that he couldn’t
control his tongue? Was he inconsiderate? Was it just that others saw
and overheard him when he went to the priest? There are always
various layers to what people do. But the effect is that Our Lord now
takes on the life of a leper: He “could no longer go openly into any
town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived” – the
crowds were just too great.
For many of us, the application here is to see sin itself as a form of
illness. When I was in the sixth form, we were taught to see the word
“disease” as being about “dis-ease”. Something is wrong.
Sometimes, when we are dealing with the “dis-ease” of sin, we can
want to hide away, for fear of punishment. How many criminals, after
committing crimes great and small, then hand themselves into the
police? Imagine the message on the police walkie-talkie: “The siege
is over, Sarge. He’s giving himself up for Lent.” But being a bit
more serious now, it’s wrong to see God, or the priest in the
confessional, as a policeman, there to hand out punishments. Part of
the disease, though, of sin, can be that we feel ill at ease in revealing
what we are responsible for. We might find it difficult to “man up”
and bring into the light of day the hidden darkness in our hearts.
There’s the story of a priest who is hearing confessions, and a man
enters the box. The priest says to him: “You’re drunk”. And the man
replies: “If I wasn’t I wouldn’t have the courage to be here.” (I’m not
suggesting that as a remedy, by the way.) Confession is about
receiving the healing of Christ, rather than staying away, either
because of wanting to obey the rule that lepers should stay on their
own, or out of worry that Jesus might ask: “And what did you do to
become a leper?”
I’ll wrap up there. Hopefully I’ve given you something to think about
as Lent approaches. Sin is something deliberate that displeases God,
but God doesn’t want us to suffer because of it. He wants us to come
to Him for healing.
Curious about exploring things further? If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org