This past week I was at home with my family for winter vacation. Thanks to the internet and to Facebook, I was able to arrange visits with some friends whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was almost as if no time had passed since we had seen each other. They were just the way I remembered them – and yet I also discovered aspects of their personalities that were new to me. Every person is a whole world in itself, and even when we know them very well, there is always something new we can learn about them, if we are open.
The Bible is much the same way. We can hear the same passages and the same basic messages over and over again, but if we let the Holy Spirit speak to us through those words of Sacred Scripture, they take on meanings or nuances that are adapted to our needs at any given moment and can even be surprising or unexpected.
The message of today’s liturgy is certainly familiar. Lent begins in a week and a half, and appropriately enough, the readings we have just heard speak of our struggle with sin and the gift of God’s forgiveness for those who seek His help and pardon.
The Gospel reading is often cited as an example of the dangers of avarice and attachment to worldly goods, but that’s not the full story. Really, it shows us that even very good people – like the young man who had kept most of the commandments very well – have their weak points and their sins that keep them – or rather, us – from being worthy of heaven. The apostles ask, “who can be saved?”, and Jesus admits that it is impossible for us to be saved on our own strength. That could sound a bit grim except for the fact that He also says that “all things are possible for God.”
That hope is reinforced by the other two readings. The book of Sirach says that, “To the penitent, God provides a way back, He encourages those who are losing hope…” and the Psalm says, “I acknowledged my sin to You, my guilt I covered not. I said, ‘I confess my faults to the Lord’, and you took away the guilt of my sin.”
Let us take this familiar message to heart once again: none of us is perfect or worthy of heaven on our own account, but God wants us all to be saved. All we have to do is humbly acknowledge our sins, sincerely repent, and turn to Him with trust and love, in the sacrament of reconciliation. Then we can “praise and glorify God in His mercies. How great the mercy of the Lord, His forgiveness of those who return to Him!”