Immersed in Christ: January 23, 2021
Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 9:2-14; Psalm 47; Mark 3:20-21.
“God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.”
Hebrews tells us we have more to celebrate at Mass than we might be aware of. The readings often do!
Most people worry sometimes about their sins. Some worry a lot. Some Catholics even confess over and over again sins they have already confessed, even though they were certainly taught that this is not necessary, not smart, and not in accord with what we believe about the forgiveness of sins. But they keep feeling guilty, so they keep bringing up the same things. And even if they don’t confess them again, they still worry about them.
This is rooted in a misunderstanding both of Baptism and of the Mass — because it is rooted in a profound misunderstanding of Christ’s sacrificial death, which gives both Baptism and the Mass their meaning.
The key text in today’s reading is: “When Christ came as a high priest of all the blessings which were to come, he entered the sanctuary once for all, taking with him, not the blood of goats and calves, but his own blood, and achieved eternal [or ‘definitive’] redemption.”
People who can’t get rid of their guilt feelings think they have to keep doing something to “make up” or “pay” for their sins. And of course it is never enough, never “definitive.” So like Lady Macbeth trying to wash King Duncan’s blood off her hands, they keep repeating, “Out, damned spot!” over and over again without getting relief. Their motivation is fear, not love. Lady Macbeth’s cry is in the back of their minds: “Hell is murky!” They don’t understand what Jesus did.
Jesus wasn’t really “paying” for our sins, because God wasn’t charging anything for them! He did “make a sacrifice of atonement [English: ‘at-one-ment’] for the sins of the people,” but this was not a simple “payment.”
The key word for atonement is the Hebrew kapper.... which means etymologically to cover, to conceal the offending object and so to remove the obstacle to reconciliation.1
Reconciliation — “at-one-ment” — is the goal. A thread in Protestantism sees Christ’s blood as “covering over” our sins, so that the sight of them does not offend God. We are “covered by the Blood.” But we believe Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” That means he removes them, destroys them. And this is the significance of Christ’s blood: he died so that we might die in him. Our redemption comes through at-one-ment with Christ in his death, at-one-ment with Christ in his resurrection, and at-one-ment with Christ in living the divine life of grace “in him” as members of his risen body who are a “new creation.” 2
If sins were just “forgiven,” we might feel we had to “make up” for them, since forgiveness doesn’t change us. But sins “taken away” are gone. They no longer exist. To keep “paying” for them is to deny the power of the blood of Christ shed, not in payment, but in order that the one who sinned might die and rise “in him” as a “new creation” with no guilt or history of sin. If we hold on to our history, we nullify the mystery! If we let it go, “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.”
Meditation: 1. Have I let go of all my past sins? 2. Have I given them to Jesus on the cross? 3. Have I left them with him to dispose of and never looked back?
1 Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17. McKenzie, S.J., Dictionary of the Bible. 2 2Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15.