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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thinking About Sinners: Honest and Dishonest

At Mass this morning I was thinking about sinners. (An appropriate topic for a sinner.) There are two types of sinners: honest sinners and dishonest sinners. An honest sinner knows he (or she) is a sinner and doesn't pretend to be anything else. Of course there are degrees of sin and some honest sinners are immersed in deadly sin while others struggle against the petty sins which, if not fought diligently, can lead to deadly sin. The dishonest sinners may or, if they've totally killed their consciences, may not know they are sinners. But one thing is absolutely true about both types of dishonest sinner: they play a game of let's pretend we aren't sinners, but are actually holy and righteous. They shake their fists at any authority that challenges their sinful comfort zone and anyone who raises the issue of authority to warn them. Often, they attack the challenger as the real sinner for disputing their "I'm okay" mentality and disturbing their false peace. They label the challengers hatemongers and bigots for making them "feel bad."

Now, which sinners did Jesus eat dinner with?
The answer is both, but more frequently with the honest sinners, which got him in trouble with the dishonest sinners. The honest sinners, the prostitutes and tax collector,s knew exactly who they were. If they went to the synagogue you better believe they sat in the back and, in the case of the women, had their faces veiled. And yet Jesus knew that an honest sinner is more reachable and closer to repentance. Take Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector guilty of extortion. But all it took was a look from Jesus and an invitation to repentance, "I'm coming to your house today." (Talk about the lovely hound of heaven in pursuit of His "prey.") And what happened? Zacchaeus gave back fourfold his ill-gotten gains. The woman taken in adultery saw the love in Jesus' eyes when he told her to "Go and sin no more." The pharisees with the rocks left too, probably because they read their own sins in the dust where Jesus wrote, but there was no sign of repentance among them. One can imagine how they seethed and plotted their revenge.

Jesus also ate with a dishonest sinner, Simon the pharisee. Simon was apparently fascinated by Jesus, but he didn't want to honor him because he feared his religious comrades. So he deliberately failed to offer Jesus the traditional and respectful hospitality of having a servant wash his feet when he entered his home. Simon also looked with disdain at the woman who came in and washed Jesus' feet with her tears. After all, SHE was a sinner. Jesus, however, reads the heart. He knew who the self-righteous, hard-hearted sinner was and he exposed Simon through a parable.

But Simon was only a second-rate dishonest sinner compared to the high priest and his clique. Caiaphas made that famous statement, "It is necessary that one (innocent) man die for the people." He knew Jesus was innocent. He knew from the Scriptures that murder of the innocent was a crime that called to heaven for vengeance. Nevertheless, he put in play an elaborate scheme to use the Romans to execute Jesus. And the plot came to a head when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, more than anything a proof that He was indeed who He said He was, the Son of God. But that event became the catalyst for the pharisees to implement their murderous intent and, in fact, they intended to kill Lazarus too. Yes, Caiaphas is the icon of the dishonest sinner. Jesus pegged them when he told the pharisees, "If you were blind there would be no sin in that. 'But we see,' you say, and your sin remains."

How many dishonest sinners there are in the Church today. They rebel against authority, even publicly, but present themselves for sacrilegious Communion claiming that the "God they know" would never want to deprive them of union with Himself. After all, they are "devout Catholics" who care about the poor and the children. They create a false God to worship who agrees that their evil is really good. And so they join the Body of Christ with the enemy whom they have embraced whole-heartedly. Most guilty are the modern-day pharisees, the religious leaders, the men in Roman collars who, like their forebears, reject Jesus through his Church and crucify Him again every time they say Mass. Sadly, they lead many others into grievous sin.

The icon for the honest sinner is the good thief crucified with Christ. He had no illusions about his death sentence. He knew he deserved it. He also knew that Jesus had "done nothing wrong." And what happened next is a lesson for all of us who desire salvation. Jesus said, "This day you will be with me in paradise." Honest sinners who repent will see the face of Christ and adore Him for all eternity. Dishonest sinners, without a miracle of grace, will embrace their sins to the end and be sent to "that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Honest sinner or dishonest sinner? Each of us needs to ask himself every day: which am I?

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