Commentary on the Gospel of
I can easily relate to the theme of sin and repentance in today’s readings. I know I’ve been guilty of failing to heed the voice of God, of turning away from God’s precepts and of doing my own thing. I can point to specific instances in my life where I disobeyed God. Jesus’ cry of “Woe” (also translated as “Alas”) continues the lamentation in Baruch while focusing on those sinners who reject the mercy and healing of God. Instead of recognizing God’s love incarnate in Jesus and repenting of my sins, I succumb to the temptations and fleeting pleasures of this world.
But I find God drawing me deeper into these Scripture passages. The repetition of “we” grabs my attention. Note that those in exile lament as a people, not as individuals: “we today are flushed with shame, we of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem, that we, with our kings and rulers and priests and prophets, and with our ancestors, have sinned in the Lord's sight and disobeyed…” The entire tribe of Israel feels shame and guilt over their collective sin. Likewise, Jesus does not lament over one individual, but over entire cities: Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Suddenly, the passage is not just about my sins and me.
Western society tends to emphasize the individual over the tribe. So it follows that our understanding of sin tends to be about those individual acts we do or fail to do. Yet the Church also recognizes the reality of social sin, which arises out of individual acts to form structures of sin. These include racist and sexist attitudes that keep us from recognizing the dignity of all people, policies that oppress the poor, and the systematic failure to care for our common home, the Earth. Reflecting on my complicity in these structures of sin elicits a deeper sense of my own guilt and shame. But it’s a guilt and shame that I share with all those who also recognize their own complicity in these structures of sin. Jesus’ cries of lamentation take on a deeper meaning, prompting me to repentance and to accept the mercy and healing Jesus offers. Then I am ready to work, with my sisters and brothers, for God’s justice on Earth, dismantling those structures of sin.