The Hard Grace of Knowing Sin
In Luke’s gospel, after preaching to a crowd on the shore of Lake Galilee, Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep and cast the nets. Despite fishing that night and catching nothing Peter does what Jesus asks. Seeing the nets filled to the breaking point Peter falls at the knees of Jesus, saying, “Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man’. Peter is credited of sinning when he denied knowing Jesus during his passion. Without judging Peter, whatever lingering guilt he must have felt seems to be addressed by Jesus when in John’s gospel after the resurrection Our Lord invites an affirmation of Peter’s love.
Acknowledging our sin during Lent we pray to be forgiven and to forgive. We will also pray to know our sin. That seems where we should begin. What a challenging grace to ask for, to know our sins, to be able to say like Peter, ‘I am a sinful man, I am a sinful woman’. That is a very healthy grace. In its pure form we may only be able to take so much of it. Like vanilla when we are baking, it smells so good, a little bit adds wonderful taste, too much will be overpowering and not good.
This grace of knowing sin is given of course when God wants us to have it. For some saints it was their special grace. These penitents talked to God a lot about their sin and the sin of the world in prayer, growing in God’s love through this grace. All of us can profit from this grace when God gives it to us, but it may not always be so strong. We may draw upon this experience remembering and being moved by it later. This seems to be what happens in the sacrament of reconciliation, when we are not overcome by sin but want to celebrate God’s forgiveness preparing for Christmas or Easter or while making special spiritual exercises? Sometimes God’s grace just moves us to be aware of sin and celebrate forgiveness.
Knowing that we are sinners lets us claim as our own the prayer we hear in the book of Daniel today, ‘Do not take away your mercy from us…with contrite hearts let us be received…those who trust you cannot be put to shame…do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and mercy.
In the parable of Matthew I would like to know if the King had an experience of mercy? I suspect yes. We do not know how our debtor ran up a huge debt nor how he would propose to pay for it in the future. What does one do in such a situation? Get prostrate and beg is the best idea. He sees reality and does the only thing one can do. Adam and Eve take note! Our debtor received mercy.
Something is wrong however. How could he have forgotten his experience mercy? Did he forget his sin? All of those around are upset. They go to the king because they appreciated mercy, they were sinners, and something really went wrong with this man’s behavior. He should know and do better. Amen. Oh oh, no second chance this time!
Putting on our seat belt and crash helmet, let us ask for the grace of knowing our sin.
Then we can humbly welcome the mercy of God’s promise and we grow in love. May our experience of God’s mercy be so good, a remembered grace, that we share it.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.