Today’s Mass readings are all about forgiveness. In the first reading God forgives David for the sins of murder and adultery. Then Paul reminds us that our redemption comes entirely through Christ. The Gospel tells the story of the penitent woman washing the feet of Jesus with her tears and drying them with her hair. The common thread is that God forgives us if we are open to his grace.
But what about those of us who aren’t? There are occasions in all our lives when we do something we know to be wrong and are not the least bit sorry. We do this for a variety of reasons and under a variety of circumstances. Sometimes we think the transgression is insignificant, (jaywalking, anyone?), or maybe we feel justified in our actions (“He/She had it coming!”). Regret is not a defining aspect of sin, but is it a prerequisite for redemption?
Take the case of a famous (infamous?) unrepentant sinner, Barabbas, the murderer set free in place of the innocent Christ. Barabbas has long been considered a symbol of the ultimate miscarriage of justice, the undeserving beneficiary of the actions of evil men and the insanity of mob rule. But perhaps Barabbas was something more. What if he was a historical precedent for redemption? What if his placement in the story of the Passion is as a symbol of the sinful everyman? Venerable Fulton J. Sheen says as much in his classic Life of Christ. “Barabbas was freed because of Christ, political freedom though it was. But it was a symbol that through his death men were to be made free.” That statement knocked me for a loop! Barabbas was the first sinner to be set free as a direct consequence of the crucifixion! And he wasn’t even sorry for what he did! He probably felt totally justified in his crimes since he committed them in the act of rebelling against the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. An example of injustice or proof of God’s mercy and generosity?
When I was growing up I once heard a priest say “God forgives you before you say you’re sorry.” As an adult I heard another priest say that sin is not “doing bad things”, sin is distance from God. Barabbas’ crimes are described in the Gospel but not his relationship with God. We know nothing of his religious life as a Jew. We may assume he was a criminal who happened to be in the right place at the right time. What if he was a pious man who believed he was fighting for the glory of God like the Crusaders of the middle ages? I’m not excusing whatever he did or justifying evil means to achieve noble ends, but I am starting to look more closely at what redemption truly means and for whom it is truly meant. Are we to be saved by our faith? Our actions? Our repentance? All of the above? Only God knows for sure. Sheen’s take on Barrabas’ place in the Gospel has made me think more deeply about the gift of redemption.
Have a blessed week!