Tuesday of week 3 in Ordinary Time
Saint Angela Merici, Virgin
Jesus Obliterates Sins
We have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Hebrews is arguing that Jewish Christians should not keep offering sacrifices in the Temple according to Jewish law. We have to remember that Jews who accepted Jesus did not think they were changing religions. God had promised to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel,” not by abolishing the law the people had pledged to observe, but by making it “part of their very being” (Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968). “Its newness consists rather in its interiority: in the immediacy of the people’s knowledge of God” (see January 23 above: Jesus Is An Interior Experience); and in the forgiveness of sin.”
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts… And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
…And I will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:10, quoting Jeremiah 31:31).
The new Christians originally just kept observing all the Jewish rules and practices, which included offering sacrifices for sins. Hebrews argues that those sacrifices “can never make perfect” those who continue to offer them year after year, since, if they did, the worshipers, once cleansed, “would no longer have had any consciousness of sins.”
The difference here is between being forgiven and being cleansed. Forgiveness does not take away sins. It does not change anything in the “very being” of those forgiven; it just means God will not hold their sins against them. So it leaves people with an abiding sense of guilt and unworthiness. David prayed:
I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me… I have done what is evil in your sight… Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow... (Psalm 51).
He didn’t ask God only to “hide your face from my sins.” He asked him to “blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” But this was impossible. Sins are part of our history; what we have done we have done, and nothing can change that. God might give us a converted heart, but, no matter how many prayers and sacrifices we offer, he can’t really “create” a “clean” one in us, one that has never sinned. Martin Luther saw this clearly. He truly believed, although he probably did not actually say, that the redeemed soul, forgiven by God, is “like a dunghill covered with snow.”
And that is exactly how many people feel after confessing and being forgiven for sins they cannot forgive themselves for. To those offering comfort they say, “I know I am forgiven, but I still did what I did. That is who I am, and nothing I do can change that.”
The author of Hebrews would agree: “for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats—or any number of prayers and penances we might perform—could take away sins.”
Then Jesus came; the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.” That body was not just the one he was born with. The mystery of our redemption is that the body that hung on the cross was the body of Jesus the head and all of his members: all those “baptized into Christ Jesus… baptized into his death… buried with him… crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed… For whoever has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:3).
The body of Jesus that hung on the cross was guilty, because incorporated into it were all who would ever be baptized “into Christ,” including all of our sins: “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus died, we died in him and our sins were annihilated—totally obliterated. The self who committed whatever sins we committed (or would commit) died and was buried, and our history was over, our record erased.
When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our sins, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13).
We are not redeemed because Jesus died for us. We are redeemed because, when Jesus died, we died “in him.”
That is why, in the death of Jesus, “Lamb of God,” our sins are not just forgiven but “taken away.” That is why Hebrews says, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Forgiveness as a “change of attitude” on God’s part, does not change or purify us. But when we, with all of our sins, went down into the grave with Jesus, our sins were “taken away,” because we who committed them died in Christ and rose again as a “new creation.” God could and did “create a clean heart in us.”
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!... a new creation is everything! (John 1:29; 2Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:1).
Through our incorporation into Christ on the cross, the sins that are a part of our life, a part of our history, simply cease to exist. That is the mystery of Baptism.
And it is the mystery of Jesus, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” We need Jesus, Jesus the divine human being, Jesus in the flesh, to be truly purified of sin. Only when we die and rise in him—in his body, as his body—do our sins cease to be part of our being.
This mystery took place when we were baptized “into Christ.” The same mystery becomes present to us every time the death and rising of Jesus is made physically present to us in the sacrifice of the Mass. That presence presents us wth the opportunity to renew our choice to die and rise in him that our sins might be obliterated.
I can renew that choice now. Do I choose to be united with Jesus on the cross so that my sins will be obliterated?
Pray: “Lord, I give you my body. Let me die in you so that you might live in me.”
Practice: When the host is lifted up at Mass, and every time you see a crucifix, offer yourself again with Jesus on the cross. Put your hand on your heart and say, “This is my body, given up for you!”
Discuss: How do you feel about the sins you have confessed?