Today’s readings bring to our attention some ways in which sin affects our relationship with God and with each other. Often, it could be easy for us to think of sin like a financial debt. If we go into the red by sinning, our account can get locked; to resolve the situation, we ask forgiveness, which gets our account unlocked, and we pay back the debt through penance. It is a simple, private transaction. There is some truth to that, but it is an overly simplistic picture.
The first reading teaches us that when we sin, wisdom flees from us. When we go against the truths that God has revealed to us, and against the subtle whispers of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that help us to know what to do, little by little we become deaf and blind to those truths. It becomes harder for us not to sin, and we begin to find excuses and sophisms to justify behavior that is actually counterproductive for our long-term happiness and salvation. We weaken our ability to act in the light of faith. To put it bluntly, sin – especially repeated, voluntary, habitual sin – makes us spiritually stupid. Those are strong words, but they are true.
In the Gospel, Jesus emphasizes that sin is not always a purely private matter. Each person’s behavior affects the people around them. Sometimes something we do can induce someone else to sin, or at least create an occasion of sin for them. This can happen even if what we do is not in itself a sin. For example, someone might dress immodestly without really thinking about it. If they were alone, it would not be a problem, but in public, it can be an opportunity of temptation for someone who sees them. Something similar can happen through omission. We will be held responsible if we are in a position of moral authority and fail to warn others away from spiritual danger. Jesus says that it would be better to drown in the sea than to induce one of God’s children to sin. Again, those are strong words. They invite us to examine how we are influencing the people and the world around us.
But the readings are not all doom and gloom. In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us to be very forgiving of others. Elsewhere He completes this message by saying that, the degree to which we forgive others, is the degree to which we ourselves will be forgiven. If we are generous in mercy, we will also be generously forgiven. The first reading and the psalm emphasize that God knows not just our actions, but also our thoughts and our hearts. He sees our inner struggles with sin. This is a wonderful knowledge, the psalm says, because it means that wherever we are, God’s hand is there to guide us, sustain us and strengthen us. May God guide us, protect us, and keep us from sin, and help us to help each other along the road to heaven, today and every day.