At the heart of our Mass we are reminded that Jesus poured out his blood for the forgiveness of sins. However, the forgiveness of sins is not always a fashionable topic and it has always been an issue for those who are thinking of becoming Christians.
Those who have been raised in the Confucian tradition can have very real problems relating to this core belief about Jesus.
Why is the forgiveness of sins unfashionable? The answer has varied through the ages, but we can quickly sketch three examples among many.
First, there are those people who deny that they ever sin. They prefer to see themselves as free from sin. When they do fail, they are inclined to describe this as a mistake, or an error, or a lapse in judgement.
Such people cannot grasp the idea of sin as a breach in our loving relationship with God or with our neighbour. God’s plan for us is to be holy, as God is holy, and sin is a religious concept, not just a social one.
Second, there are those people who cannot admit that they sin. When they do fail, they always want to blame other people. The children cry out, “She/he made me do it!” and adults can have a grown-up version of the same blaming.
This inclination to blame, this failure to take responsibility, shows the lack of a mature conscience. But God’s plan for us calls us into a mature, adult loving relationship with God, constantly monitored by a mature conscience.
Third, there are those people who cannot admit that God has
any relationship with their sins. They see sin only in human terms and cannot see that they need to seek to repair their relationship with God, by seeking God’s generous forgiveness. For these people, the forgiveness of sins is irrelevant to their lives.
Jesus was extremely clear that his ministry on earth proclaimed the forgiveness of sins. He understood that God was personally involved in the forgiveness of sins, the sins of individuals and the sins of the community.
God is constantly reaching out to us, repairing ruptured relationships by forgiveness of sins. Jesus shocked his listeners by claiming for himself the authority to forgive sins. This is the power of God, lived out in Jesus’ ministry and especially on the cross.
The psalmist has a beautiful way of speaking to God. “Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.”
In this short phrase, the psalmist recognises his own sinfulness, his shame and guilt, and his personal responsibility. In asking for healing and forgiveness, the psalmist has given us a model. We can take this short and beautiful prayer, and make it our own.