“Thoroughly wash away my guilt and from my sin cleanse me…My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.”Psalm 51:4,19
Do you recall your very first sincere apology? Maybe you don’t remember the very first, but I’m sure there is one that pops into your head from your childhood.
I was about five. We lived on a Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia. My mom, brother and me, occasionally walked to a nearby store. One day on our return home, my mom with a not so happy demeanor, stopped and looked at me. I’m not sure if it were the sounds of enjoyment of the candy in my mouth or the smell of the peppermint that was savoring within but she was on to me. I had just stolen a 5 cent peppermint from the store without my mom knowing, at least I thought I had done it well. My mother turned around and headed back to the store with me in tow. When we returned to the store, I was asked to politely spit my candy out, tell the clerk what I had done, apologize and pay my debt for taking the candy. That is my earliest lesson on humility. A lesson I often remember now, tell my own children and now laugh about.
In the gospel reading today from Luke 18:9-14, Jesus illustrates a scene of a sinner who extols himself and one who can’t even bear to raise his eyes because of his sins. Afterwards, Jesus advises his disciples, including you and I, that whoever “exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
When we read Psalm 51, we also see an illustration of how to ask for forgiveness to receive it. It is with a contrite heart that God accepts our plea for forgiveness and pour out mercy. To have a contrite heart, we have to humble ourselves and not rely on our own merit, our own abilities but on God. We need God and it’s in that humility that we surrender to His help in our lives. Children are great examples of this humility. They know that they need their parents or guardians. They don’t think twice about it because it is obvious there are lots of things they cannot do on their own. Parents are there to provide for their children and guide them.
Embarrassment ruled my little heart when I was five, although I may not have recognized it as that then, but I knew I did something wrong. I like the tax collector in the gospel, found it difficult to look the clerk in the eye as I asked for pardon. I committed an act that went against my parents teaching, against God’s commandments and with a contrite heart I apologized to the store clerk. Most likely in that moment, it was really an act of asking forgiveness from my mom instead of the clerk. Nonetheless, I was sorry for what I had done.
The meditation from today’s gospel in The Better Part: Christ as Friend, illuminates Christ’s mercy beautifully. “No sinner is too big for Christ’s mercy. His mercy is infinite, like an ocean; even the greatest sins are finite, like a thimble. How foolish we would be to think our thimble was too deep for his ocean!”
Imagine that, any act committed against God’s will is finite, meaning it has defined limits. And Christ’s mercy is infinite, having no limits. All our sins are truly a “drop in the ocean”.
Perhaps, the invitation today is to humble ourselves and surrender our hearts and our will, realizing we can’t do this on our own.
Lord, I come to You with my eyes cast down, surrendering my heart asking for pardon for all that has offended You and my brother. For only You can cleanse me and make me whole again. Amen