Sunday, July 02, 2006


I Pet. 5:5f Luke 15:1f

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

I have to consider that when our Lord refers to “just persons who need no repentance” He is using irony. The emphasis seems to be more about how these persons see themselves, or even more likely, the show they put on for others.

One very cold morning in Washington D.C., I was present for the annual Right to Life march, held every January 22nd, the date of the evil and infamous Roe vs. Wade Decision. On that day thousands of people gather every year to protest the abortion Holocaust that has been unleashed by that completely arbitrary and unjust Supreme Court error back in 1973. I applaud the people who show up, and I am hesitant to be critical of anything they say on such an occasion. However, that particular year a Rabbi led an opening prayer in which he said these words: “Lord, we are not the ones who have done this. Our hands have not shed this blood.” That may very well be true concerning the members of his own Synagogue, and I want to take nothing away from them if that is so. But, I am willing to believe that more than half of the pro-life people there (mostly Christians of every kind of church background) were converts to their faith. It is quite possible that some of them had shed this innocent blood during a previous time in their lives, and had since then repented and turned to the Lord for forgiveness and healing. One of the great pro-life advocates is Dr. Bernard Nathenson; and Dr. Nathenson had actually committed several abortions before his conscience was awakened to the fact that he must stop killing innocent, helpless human beings. Later he converted to Christianity and became a practicing Catholic. And, he could not, had he been there that day, have prayed with the Rabbi on the podium.

With all due respect for that Rabbi, we cannot enter the presence of God by claiming to be among the ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Even if we have not committed every sin in the book, the Bible tells us that to break the Law in one point is to be guilty of all. We must never pray, like the Pharisee in the temple, “Lord I thank thee that I am not as other men.” Instead, we must look at the examples of Daniel and Nehemiah, who prayed confessing their own sins, and then confessing the sins of their people, Israel; that is, they interceded by confessing the sins of their people and by identifying with those sins. In this way they prefigured the Lord, who went to the cross bearing sins none of which were His own- for he alone was without sin.

Today’s Epistle tells us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. The only people who can enter God’s presence are those who have come by way of a humble recognition of their own sins, and who are grateful for His mercy. And so we have built into our liturgy a very honest and sane piece of reality called the General Confession. We already have prayed for His mercy, as we opened our service in praise and thanksgiving with the Kyrie and the Gloria. I have said before that people who want a religion that affirms them and tells them that they are wonderful, have come to the wrong place. Here we confess our sins. We are not morbid or grim. We confess and repent because we have hope. We know that Jesus Christ has died for our sins, and so forgiveness has been provided. We know that he gives us the Holy Spirit, and we are empowered to grow in holiness and the highest virtue of holiness, charity. Or, we should know these things.

This past week I was interviewed by the editor of The Fountain Hills Times, and the subject was the difference between our Province and the Episcopal Church- or to be specific, what the difference is between what we are and what they have become. Anyone who reads the news is aware that the Episcopal Church is about to lose its standing as a member church of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury announced this on Wednesday. What has led to this? For the last few years they have defied the almost 69 million other Anglicans in the world, and ignored the clear warning given in the Windsor Report. The big sensational news for the last several years has been about one particular form of sin, which is, as most of you know, what they call “same sex attraction.” But, that is misleading. The attraction is not the sin unless it is acted on. As long as a person fights a temptation; or as long as a person confesses and repents, and makes then the effort to fight the temptation, the endurance involved may be the mark of a genuine saint, no matter how strange the temptation itself may be.

A lot of people have strong temptations of various kinds, and many of these temptations are caused by a psychological disorder. Some men are addicted to pornography. Some men are womanizers, never content with the love of their wives, always seeking that next adulterous affair. Some women are what we used to call nymphomaniacs. Aside form sexual disorders, some people are kleptomaniacs, and some are drug addicts and alcoholics. Some are addicted to gambling, and bring themselves and their families to ruin.

Now, my many readers are quite aware of my work in Baltimore City among the poorest of the poor. There is no condition of human misery I have not seen firsthand. I have had to try to help all sorts and conditions of men. The Gospels speak of the sinners who came to be baptized by John in the wilderness, and then the ones who turned from their sins and followed Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell of the prostitutes and tax collectors who repented. I have met prostitutes. I have met strippers, most of them heroin addicts who were dying of AIDS. I have met drug addicts and practicing homosexuals, many of whom were also dying of AIDS. True compassion is not found in affirming destructive behavior. You cannot help anybody by affirming a life of sin, and by accepting a destructive lifestyle. That is exactly what they do not need. And, yes, they are miserable.

The big error of the Episcopal Church (as well as some other mainline denominations) is that they have decided to be what they call “inclusive.” They will not judge anybody, they say, so they welcome everybody without any talk about sin and repentance. And so, they have decided to be, in today’s widespread abuse of the English language, the “gay” friendly church. In the process, they have to allow any and every other kind of immorality if they wish to be consistent. In a very strange twist of religious deception, they teach unrepentant sinners to consider themselves to be “the ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” Talk about irony.

Here are the problems with that whole picture.

1) Jesus did not simply come to call sinners. In His own words, He came to call sinners to repentance. He used the image of a physician when He said this, so we must never forget that repentance and forgiveness bring a kind of healing to the soul. But, without repentance there can be no healing.
2) We cannot accept something and forgive it. We cannot approve something and forgive it. People do not need to have their “life style” accepted by God; the universal human need is to be forgiven by God. Forgiveness means that certain actions and behavior are condemned, but the person who repents is accepted by God.
3) The Church has no authority to approve anything that God has forbidden.
4) We must be consistent.

The March 2004 Touchstone, after the Gene Robinson vote at the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, carried my article that they titled "The Gay Divorcee." The subject was the double mindedness of certain conservatives who were willing to approve of all kinds of wrong behavior until it came to this one particular sin, namely the sin of the practicing homosexual. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

“The way home for the conservative Episcopalians is to place Robinson’s homosexuality in its proper context, as a part rather than the sum of his life of sin. If they wish to be credible in their opposition to homosexuality, they must reject all deviations from the path of sexual purity and teach chastity of life for all persons. They must affirm marriage as a covenant and as a sacrament in which the words “as long as you both shall live” retain their full meaning.

“They must oppose Robinson’s ‘ministry’ not only because he is a practicing homosexual, but also because he is unfaithful to his wife. They must oppose the continued public ministry of all clergy who are notorious for living immoral lives…

“If this were the context of their objection to Robinson, one that is clearly and consistently based upon principle, they would have a true and prophetic message with which to oppose homosexualism. That movement would still have its supporters and apologists, but they would have to face the opposition of the great Tradition going back to Christ and the apostles, not simply an objection that they can rationally dismiss as ‘homophobia.’ ”

Normally, I do not preach this way. But, when the news requires pastoral direction, it is something that I am not going to ignore.

Who is a just person? Who is a sinner who repents? A “just person” is an illusion, a fantasy, a self deceived and lost soul. If he is affirmed and accepted, all the worse for him, all the easier his self-deception. A sinner who repents? Well, I hope that is all of us here.

1 comment:

Fr Matthew Kirby said...


I was just thinking this morning that one of the great mistakes made by many modern Christians is to think that the Gospel and Jesus' preaching have no challenge for anybody but the rich or powerful. In other words, anybody who is relatively poor or suffers or is marginalised, for whatever reason, gets a "free pass". Any person who can plausibly be identified as a "victim" is virtually canonised and considered beyond the call to repentance.

But Jesus preached repentance to everybody. Indeed, when the crowds asked Him about God's judgement and the case of some people who had a tower fall on them, he said "unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Lk. 13.5). It's just that the poor have less invested in this world and are less insulated from the consequences of their actions, so they are more likely to see their sin for what it is and give it up for God.

So, when Christians talk about God's "preferential option for the poor" (or the marginalised) they need to be careful they do not fall into the trap of implying that attempts to preach repentance and reform to those socially dysfunctional through sin are intrinsically hypocritical exercises in "blaming the victim".

And, at the very same time, as Fr Hart implies, we must beware of conforming to the "middle-class moralism"-stereotype by targetting less socially acceptable sins but ignoring those nonchalantly practised by the Bourgeoisie, such as divorce.