Confessing Our Sins: With God It’s Never Too Late
Homily for the Sunday before Theophany
2 Timothy 4:5-8 Mark 1:1-8
For St Mark, the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ is that God sent a messenger to prepare the way. The messenger is John the Baptist, and his message is repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
The Evangelist doesn’t spend any time explaining who John is or giving his resume—he just says that John “appeared in the wilderness.” Think about it—the messenger of the Lord appeared in the wilderness. That wilderness was literally the Judean desert—dry, rocky, full of life-threatening dangers. But in another sense that wilderness was, and is, the desert of human souls attacked by the Devil—dried-up and rocky, lacking love and faith and hope, and full of life-threatening dangers: sins of pride and greed and lust and hate and envy and despair.
In that real Judean desert, though, there was one source of life—the Jordan River. Water is essential for life; it is the source of life in a physical sense. Chapter One of the Book of Genesis, the story of creation, describes how God established the waters on the earth and brought forth life from the waters. Spiritually, too, water gives life—baptism brings us into the life in Christ. Plunging into the life-giving water gives new life to dried-up souls, softens rocky spirits, and washes away or drowns life-threatening dangers.
But the water of life, even though it is available to all, comes at a price. And that price is repentance for sin. The people came to John to be baptized, confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness. They had to want forgiveness leading to new life, and they had to be willing to pay the price; they had to repent, which means changing one’s mind, turning away from sin and evil—and they had to confess, which means naming and taking responsibility for sin.
This seems to be especially hard for us—very few people actually go to a priest and confess their sins anymore. Maybe it’s because we have the old idea that confession is like a law court where we’re already guilty and the priest just announces the sentence. Maybe it’s because we have trouble believing in the reality of sin and evil in our lives—we figure we’re really not so bad, compared to murderers and rapists and thieves. Maybe it’s because we’re embarrassed to face a priest we know and talk about our shortcomings or our deliberate harmful actions.
Our embarrassment is a good sign that at least the sin of pride has hold of us. Our pride will be hurt if we talk about our imperfections. Pride and self-deceit are at work, too, when we think we’re not so bad.
Sin is what separates us from God and from our sisters and brothers—and from ourselves. It doesn’t have to be deliberate or dramatic or violent; it can just kind of sneak up on us, so that we end up doing and saying hurtful things without even realizing it until it’s too late.
But with God it’s never too late—God’s mercy and love are always ready to accept and heal us and to restore our relationship with Him. That’s why confession is not like a legal judgment, but is more like finding our way when we’re lost. We go to someone and ask for help—“I made a wrong turn, but I really want to go in the right direction. Can you point out the way for me?”
Just as when we follow good directions and go the right way, we gain confidence and pathfinding skills; that’s the way it is with confession and spiritual direction. God and His messengers help make straight ourway to the Lord. All we have to do is change our minds, put aside our pride, trust in God’s loving mercy, and ask for forgiveness and new life, giving thanks and praise and glory to the Father, the Son, and the All-Holy, Good, and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and to ages of ages. Amen.
Father James Graham