By MSGR. THOMAS R. DUFFY
We all are aware of what happened in New York and Washington on Sept. 11. While there are obviously some people in the world who applaud these cowardly acts of violence that results in the death of so many innocent human lives, thank God most people rightly condemn this violence as cowardly, as evil and, yes, as sin.
When I heard about this violence on the radio and when I watched the television coverage, I found myself consoled and challenged by the Scripture readings I knew were assigned for Sunday, Sept. 16. To me, the readings spoke of sinners. What should we do with them? It is and always has been a problem.
In the first reading for this Sunday’s Mass, we read from the 32nd chapter of the Book of Exodus. Moses writes about how angry God was with the people of Israel for committing idolatry by worshiping a golden calf. Moses told the people he pleaded with God not to destroy them because of his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yes, we should be angry with sin. It is evil that needs to be identified and condemned for what it is.
But if we are Christians, we need to learn from Jesus. He taught us that we were to hate sin, but not sinners. The Gospel reading for this Sunday tells us how Jesus dealt with sinners and by his example teaches us how to deal with them. We read: “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and Scribes began to complain, saying “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus used this opportunity not to apologize for welcoming and, yes, eating with sinners, but to teach us how we should deal with sinners by sharing with us two questions: 1) What shepherd would not leave 99 sheep to seek after one that was lost? 2) What woman would not spend all day looking for one coin when she still had nine? The answer then, as it is now, is no one would be that foolish since a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.
Jesus was teaching them and us that the worth of every human being is such that while human wisdom might suggest some people aren’t worth saving and in fact deserve to be killed, divine wisdom does not agree. God loves everyone and so must we. He even teaches that his mission is to search out sinners, not to condemn them but to save them.
Something for us to think about when most of our political leaders are promising that they will indeed seek out those responsible, but it will not be to save them but to condemn them to the same fate they wrongly inflicted upon innocent human beings in New York and Washington.
As Christians, when will we give love and, yes, forgiveness a chance? When will we reject the lie that some human beings are beyond redemption? Some are willing to give people one or two chances to turn from sin but say “three strikes, and you’re out.” How many want to give up even on children after one failure — they call it “zero tolerance.”
When will we give love a chance? Maybe the answer is when we learn the lesson Paul wrote about in the second reading at Mass on Sept. 16. Paul writes about appreciating Jesus not giving up on him when he was a blasphemer, a persecutor and guilty of arrogance. Recognizing God’s mercy to him, Paul, who as Saul tried to rid the world of sinners by putting them in jail and even approving of their being killed as he did when Stephen was killed, still went after sinners now not to condemn them but to change them.
Now is the time to mourn all the victims of these acts of violence. Yes, it is a time to be enraged at what has happened because it is evil. But it is also a time to pray that our rage be against sin and not sinners.
Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy is pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City and dean of the Pee Dee Deanery.