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“Sin needs a solution other than concealment.” There was a moment in grade school when concealment seemed my only chance. I had not done a LOT of my cursive homework book. It was due. So I told the teacher I had left my book at home, but I had done all the pages. Saved! I thought as she seemed to buy it. She asked me to get my brother from down the hall to testify to that truth. So I lied to him and he repeated that lie to the teacher. She bought it. Saved again! “Bring your book in on Saturday, with your mom when she drops off her things for the clothing drive.” Reprieve! I can do it before then.

Mom gives me the nth degree to get it done. I do. THEN she drops the bombshell – “You have to tell Sr. Stephanie when you hand it in that you lied to her.” GULP. Saturday comes, mom drives me up to the school, hands me the bag of clothes and my cursive notebook, and says: “Drop this off and make sure you tell her you lied.” Saved again – she is staying in the car! I drop off the clothes, drop off the book and high tail it out of there without saying a thing about my lies. FREE at last! I round the corner and start up the steps and nearly run into mom coming down the steps. “Did you tell her?” “Yes,” I lied again to cover the lie that covered the lie that covered the lie. “What did she say? BUSTED! Wasn’t ready for that question! So she marched me back down there, because she knew what was at stake was more than just a failed handwriting assignment. My mom knew that sin needed a solution other than concealment.

“Sin needs a solution other than concealment.” Sin flourishes when it is concealed. I learned this truth in a different way when my former associate came back from treatment for alcoholism. A representative from Guest House held a meeting with the parish staff about how to help in the healing process.

“One of the issues around the disease of alcoholism is this difficult truth: The disease wants to hide itself. It will do all it can within its power to make sure that it is not uncovered. Hidden, the disease can thrive. Exposed to the light, it will wither and die. That is why part of the healing process for the recovering alcoholic always involves a sponsor to whom one holds him/herself accountable. And why Guest House always involves the housemates and staff of a recovering priest in the healing process. We need you to know the preferred ways Fr. Vic’s alcoholism will try to hide itself, so you can help him keep his recovery in the light. Hidden, alcoholism will kill its host. Brought to light, the recovery will win.”

Isn’t that true about all sinfulness? When we allow it to remain ‘hidden’ – tucked into a back corner of our lives – it thrives and grows. But when you have the courage to share your struggle with someone, to bring the sin into the light, something new emerges, doesn’t it? Our truest and best self has the ability to be loved into life.

That seems to be the truth that prompted Zacchaeus to leave behind all shreds of dignity and decorum and climb that tree, still dressed in all his finery. Like a fresh breeze after stifling summer heat, the arrival of Jesus in the town was enough to help Zacchaeus see how trapped he had become in his sinfulness. Too long he had let sin keep its hiding place. Too long he concealed his dark secret, and lived up to the reputation of being a cheat and a fraud that the people accused him of being. Jesus’ desire to spend time with him, his invitation to ‘come down’ for I MUST spend time with you – does not shame him into more concealment. Rather, it offers him the chance to bring his sinfulness into the light.

Defrauding people out of hard earned money has to go. Living a lavish lifestyle while so many living on the outskirts of that oasis town struggle to make a go of it – that too, was blazingly brought into the light. And once he confronted his sin, once he allows Jesus to be invited into his house, he is able to ‘stand his ground’ – to let something new emerge. “Half my belongings will go to the poor. Anyone defrauded will get 4 times restitution.” Salvation had indeed come to his house that day.

I’ll never forget the words that came out of Sr. Stephanie’s lips when I stammered my apology for lying so repeatedly about the handwriting book. “I forgive you! Thank you for telling the truth.” I remember hiding my tears of relief in mom’s skirt. I had spent so much time and energy in the cover up and the cover up of the cover up that it was a relief to have my sin brought to the light. You see, there is a better solution to sin than concealment. It is called the truth of a Savior’s love. As we bring our gifts to the altar, I invite you to bring your sins as well – bring them to the one who says to you, as he said to Zacchaeus, Hurry down, for I MUST stay in your house this day!

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When was the last time you wept over your sin?

It is an image that is hard to get out of your head once it climbs in there.  Perhaps you have seen it in your own life.  Or perhaps it comes from your reading of the gospel today.  It is the image of a woman (or anyone for that matter) crying bitter tears over the mess they have made of their life.  It is bearable if you are the ‘official listener’ – if they have come to you for comfort or counseling or advice.  Somehow that context makes it ‘okay’ for them to be weeping and you to be there to support them and let them unburden their burdens.  But it is so awkward when you stumble upon it, isn’t?  You are walking in the park, and come around the corner, and there is a couple crying on a park bench.  Or you are in a restaurant, and suddenly tears and sobbing erupt from the table next to you.  Do you avert your eyes and pretend it is not happening?  Do you quiet your own conversation in deference to the obvious pain next to you?  What do you do?

It is not hard, then, to imagine the reactions around the table at the dinner where Jesus was at.  Slack jawed astonishment.  Embarrassed silence.  Awkward shuffling of chairs.  People looking at one another – thinking: “Where are the bouncers?”  The only one who seems to not be bothered is the one who had the most cause to be embarrassed – Jesus.  After all, it was his feet being washed by tears, his feet dried by hair and anointed with oil.  What do you do when someone throws themselves at your feet weeping?

(It happened to me once at the cathedral when I was a deacon – when a woman whom by her own admission was 2,000 years old – explained the nature of the curse upon her.  She was also mother eve, Mary Immaculate and the 14th daughter of the Cosmoscrator –whatever that is, and she bore upon herself the curse of the entire world because she did not bear Louis IX’s child. [mime flipping through a book, trying to find directions when someone tells you all this] “You don’t believe me, do you?  Here is the curse – and then she did this elaborate ritual dance around me, finally collapsing, and the she wrapped both arms around my feet, sobbing and weeping there.  I can tell you, I was very uncomfortable.  It was very awkward.)

Jesus does not miss a beat.  And in that moment, you and I get a glimpse into the heart of our savior.  Because Jesus does what is in his heart to do “*snap” – just like that.  He tells a story about debts forgiven and love returned for love, and a mercy that wants to free, not just the woman at his feet, but all those in the room.  And you can imagine the end of that conversation when he looks that woman in the eye and says – “because you have loved much, your sins are forgiven.”  Because you have been willing to weep over your sins, and seek forgiveness, it has been granted to you.  And more over, Jesus tells the slack jawed group gathered around her, that this woman has greater potential then all of them because she was not afraid to show her love, not afraid to weep in her sorrow, not afraid to love her God.

Two things flow from this gospel for us to ponder on and pray about this week.  The first is the attitude of the woman and today’s gospel question.  When was the last time you wept over your sins?  When was the last time that you realized how harmful your actions were – to your relationship with your spouse, your friend, your family, your parish, your son or daughter, parent or grand parent?  When we are in touch with how much we have been forgiven and how well we have been loved, there is a great power in that for good, a great freedom which comes that allows us to pass on that goodness to others.

Secondly, reflect a while on the response of Jesus to the woman and the crowd at table.  He didn’t run from the woman’s sins and tears and sorrow.  Nor did he hide from the hardened hearts of Simon and those who were judging her in their hearts.  Rather, in both cases, he offered the divine mercy, the forgiveness of the debt, and the chance to begin anew.  That stance of Jesus toward all who approach him, should give us great confidence in our own sinfulness – that we can approach the throne of mercy and love.  Concretely, do an examination of conscience this week, and set aside some time to make use of the sacrament of forgiveness sometime over these summer days.

You see, God is neither put off by our tears nor discouraged by our hardness of heart around our sins.  His one desire is that we be free to love.  May we who receive this love around this altar never cease to anoint our Lord’s feet with our love.

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