John’s gospel begins and ends with the image of a lamb. Why a lamb? A lamb is a soft and cuddling image. For Jewish people a lamb was a symbol of sacrifice. Lambs were sacrificed in the temple as expiation for sins. John the Baptist points to Jesus as ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” At every Passover thousands of lambs were slaughtered in the temple to expiate, atone for the sins of the people. Near the end of John’s gospel he tells of the real Lamb of God being sacrificed on the altar of the cross even while lambs were being sacrificed in the temple. All the lambs sacrificed in the temple had no effect while the lamb sacrificed on Calvary was the saving sacrifice that took away the sins of the world – on Him was laid the chastisement of us all and by his wounds we are healed. Just as the Jews, while slaves in Egypt, were saved by the blood of the lamb splashed on their doorposts, so we are saved by the blood of the human lamb of God, Jesus the Christ.
There was a book out a number of years ago titled, “Whatever Happened to Sin?” The seniors among us can remember the days when everything was sin – miss Mass on a Sunday, we were hell bound. Eat meat on Friday, we were hell bound. Any violation of the church’s teaching on sexual matters, we were hell bound.
I remember years ago a father was after his teenage son about missing Mass on a Sunday. To the teenager it was not big deal; to the father it was a mortal sin. The son asked the father, ‘what’s a mortal sin’? People around my age knew what a mortal sin was; everything seemed to be a mortal sin.
St. Paul tells us that where sin abounded grace did more abound. Hopefully today we are more aware of and open to the grace of God that surrounds us – we have a more positive attitude toward God and our relationship with God.
That doesn’t mean we can close our eyes to the reality of sin in our lives and in the society that shapes our lives. In the United Church they have a prayer that would be something like our act of contrition. It prays, ‘for the sins we know, for the sins we do not know and for the sins that do not bother us.’ These are the ones to watch out for, the sins that do not bother us. Our ways of living, ways of speaking to others, ways of relating to family members and others that have become so much a part of us that we loose the sense of how far they are removed from the way Christ would have us live and love.
Every one of us has some form of bigotry or prejudice in us, though we don’t want to admit it. We feel resentment, we are annoyed by ‘these people’ from other lands, other cultures, other faiths that come to Canada and won’t fit in, won’t be assimilated into Canadian ways. We find ourselves thinking, if not saying, ‘if they don’t like the way things are here, let them go back to where they came from.’ We fail to see that this is a sin that does not bother us.
As citizens of Toronto we are caught in a sin that does not bother us when we are not bothered by the men, women and children who live in poverty in this city, when we are not bothered by the homeless of this city, when we are not bothered by the working poor in this city. We are caught in a sin that does not bother us when we find ourselves blaming the victims of poverty and homelessness. If they weren’t so lazy they’d find jobs.
We may find ourselves caught in a sin that does not bother us when we come face to face with our latent racism; our inability or our unwillingness to accept and respect men and women of other races. We fail to see them as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I was at a talk with some other priests this past Thursday given by a woman from Catholic Family Services. She talked about family violence, violence toward wives and mothers, violence toward children, violence toward seniors. The statistics were shocking. In too many families verbal, physical and psychological abuse is a sin that does not bother the abuser while it destroys the abused. Another form of family violence in which we are all involved is the abuse we heap on Mother Earth by our consumerism, wastefulness and our exploitation of the limited resources of Earth. What we do to the earth we do to ourselves.
This is all heavy stuff. I must sound like the old time missionary bounding the pulpit and telling you, you are all going to hell.
But sin is a fact in all our lives. St. John says, ‘if anyone says they have no sin, they are a liar and the truth is not in them.’ We all have to face the sins we know, the sins we do not know and face the sins that do not bother us. Then we open our lives to the Lamb of God who takes away our sins. We trust the truth, by his wounds we are healed, his is the chastisement that makes us whole. We trust the truth, that for all our sins and failings, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass, and prepare to receive the Lamb of God Who we trust He will take away our sins, the sins we know, and the sins we do not know. We pray too He will help us discover and face the sins that do not bother us.