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Surprised by Sin

Updated: May 19, 2020

Perhaps you experience it too. Every once in a while you hear about or see some behavior that provokes emotions from annoyance to outrage, leaving you with thoughts like: How could they do that? What is wrong with those people? Don’t they have a conscience? They should be punished! The spectrum of things that affront us is everything from major crimes (on TV) to someone not picking up after their dog. And just like we all have our favorite charities with which we emotionally connect, I suspect there are “sins” that really get under our skin.

Amongst the pantheon of bad things in the world, I tend to consistently get irate at companies that take advantage of us. For example, those corporations that hide profits offshore, often billions of dollars, that are not taxed and so not contributing to social programs like food stamps or healthcare, or our failing infrastructure or even defense spending. My favorite villain is Apple. In many respects a great company, but one who would like Americans to buy their $600+ phones, while at the same time having lower income folks paying higher taxes because they/Apple are not paying their share. Grrrrr……

It’s enough to make me a grumpy (grumpier?) old man. Oh, and yes, I do own an iPhone ☹

On the one hand, it is good that we are surprised, shocked or perhaps even at times angered by sin. It’s a sign that we are not totally cynical or jaded, and that our moral compass is still functioning. Moreover, as we hopefully grow closer to the brilliance of God’s sacred light, our human flaws, individual or societal, will naturally be more visible. However, it’s very important that we “do not notice the splinter in our brothers eye, while ignoring the wooden beam in your own eye” (Luke 6) or maybe even worse, being like the Pharisee in Luke 18, thankful that we are not sinners like the rest of humanity. We need to be humbly aware first and foremost of our own shortcomings. Especially since it’s a natural tendency to project our own shortcomings on others.

One of the reasons Jesus could confidently say that we will always have the poor, is that He knew there would always be sin. However, we also know, that as the Lamb of God, He “came to take away the sins of the world”. One way He did this is by not responding to sin with more sin. For example, He never returned anger with anger, even when crucified. And as Jesus followers we are called to do likewise. Fr. Rolheiser uses a helpful analogy here. He says that we must be like a water filter, that takes in water with impurities, and puts out pure, clean water. So we too must filter what we encounter. Because when we see or are the victim of evil, our challenge is not to make the evil in this world stronger by responding to it in kind.

So where does that leave us? It’s been said that the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. This is the call of the Easter Season. In the shape of Jesus cross, we see His outstretched arms embracing all mankind in a call to be one, and the vertical part of His cross connecting us to God.

We have to live that call to oneness remembering the Easter Message that yes, we will sin and be sinned against, but that is not the end of the story. Our call is to live the glorious message of the resurrection, that all will be redeemed, and surprise the world with our acts of love, both big and small.


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