We begin the tenth week of Ordinary Time by going back to the beginning, to the Book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, and to the early days of man in creation. Previous to today’s passage, the serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, and she in turn gave the fruit to Adam. Today’s reading begins with the Lord calling to them, for they are hiding from him. When he questions them, they immediately make excuses and pass the blame; the man blames the woman, the woman blames the serpent. The effects of the “original sin” are immediate and obvious. Having defied God, our first parents damaged themselves. They do not want to take responsibility, so they make excuses for themselves and justify their actions.
This behavior looks familiar to us! We have the same fallen nature as our first parents. When we have done wrong, we try to hide and blame. Our broken relationship with the Lord makes us want to avoid him, as Adam did. “I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” It is a pathetic condition. Afraid of God? As if he cannot see right through us? As if we can hide anything from him? Centuries later, “the serpent” – that is, Satan – continues to lie to us, to tell us that God is a rival or a threat to us, and that we need to protect ourselves from him.
The Lord knows everything. When he questions Adam, “Where are you?” he already clearly sees his location and his condition. When the Lord asks, “Who told you that you were naked?” he already knows what has happened. In probing Adam’s conscience, the Lord is giving him an opportunity to repent, to return to him, to ask for forgiveness and start anew.
The truth is that the Lord wants to forgive us and save us, not condemn us. Today’s Psalm gives us a strong reassurance that “with the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.” If the Lord were to “mark our iniquities,” hold our sins against us, we would not be able to stand. “But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered.” Our work, then, is not to hide from the Lord but to accept his mercy and build our life upon the truth of his never-ending love.
When we go to Confession, the Lord God already knows everything we have done and the state of our souls. If he already knows our sins, why do we confess them? He gives us the opportunity to bring what is hidden into the light, to say aloud what we have been hiding, to be honest with ourselves in the presence of a brother who is also the representative of Jesus Christ. Confession gives us a way to express our contrition and to ask for forgiveness. And Jesus, through his priest, sets us free! As he says in today’s Gospel, “Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them.” All sins! Every sinner, every one of us, can have the same confidence in the Lord that St. Paul expresses in the second reading: “The one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence.” Where? In the “building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.”
Jesus makes one exception, it seems: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” The prospect of “an everlasting sin” is disturbing. However, we do not need to fear that we might accidently or unknowingly commit a sin that will never be forgiven. Jesus is not speaking about a limit to Divine Mercy – for it is limitless: “His mercy endures forever!” Rather he is identifying the limit that we impose on ourselves if we refuse to repent. We cannot be forgiven if we refuse forgiveness. The Lord will not violate our freedom or force salvation upon us.
Jesus uses the analogy of a house, which we can take as a symbol of our inner life. The house is dominated by a “strong man,” Satan (Beelzebul, the “prince of demons”), the one who ensnared our first parents in sin. Who can overcome such a strong man? It is Jesus himself! In the first reading, there is a hint of his coming to overcome Satan: the “offspring of the woman” will strike at the head of the serpent. This is a prophetic reference to Jesus, Son of Mary. He has come to “tie up the strong man” and set us free. He plunders the house that Satan took over; he claims it for himself. This is the good news! But if the house persistently refuses the gift of the Savior, then there is no hope. That is the “everlasting sin” Jesus mentions.
The Gospel concludes with a more appealing image, the family of God, to which it is now possible for us to belong. Jesus has more in mind than setting us free from sin; he wants us to share fully in the life he has with the Father and the Spirit. He wants us to be part of his family. How can this happen? He declares: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” The best example of what Jesus is talking about here is Mary his mother. She has always remained sinless, always victorious over Satan, always one with the will of God. He invites us to join her in the family circle of all who do the will of God.
When do I blame others for my sins? In what ways do I avoid the Lord? How do I limit the mercy of God?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.