This weeks Reflection comes from the Homilies Project
Homily for August 29th Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
By and large, we’re very polite people. Our conversations are littered with “pleases” and “thank yous”. And if we accidentally nudge someone, or stand in their way, we quickly say “sorry”.
We readily apologise for trivial incidents when we inconvenience others. But when it’s more serious, when we’ve done something that really hurts someone else, saying sorry can be a lot more difficult. It’s then that the words of Elton John’s hit from way back in 1976 ring true. “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” And, yes, at times “sorry” can be extremely hard to say if we truly mean it.
It’s easy taking responsibility for things that go well, but very different when things go badly. Nationally, hardly a week goes by without a call for a Public Inquiry on something or other that’s gone wrong, either in government policy or in the workings of a public body. At their best, such Inquiries identify recommendations to avoid similar things happening again. At their worst, they either result in bland rationalisation of what happened, or they degenerate into arguments over who should ‘carry the can.’
No one likes making mistakes, especially if it causes real pain or upset for someone else. The immediate reaction can be to try and hide our embarrassment by attempting to justify what we’ve done. We say things like “No one complained when so and so did the same thing”, or “that’s how I’ve always done it”, or “if I hadn’t acted, something far worse would have happened.”
Alternatively, we might try pinning the blame on someone, or something, else. “He told me to do it”, “It’s the computer’s fault”, or “If you had told me you were going to do that, then of course I wouldn’t have…”
Any of those statements might be true, or any other excuses we make in seeking to avoid blame for what we’ve done. But that’s all they are – excuses – attempts at deflecting blame for the wrong we have done. The responsibility is ours. Yes, we’re subject to influences. Yes, there are pressures on us. But no, difficult though it may be, we do not have to give in to those pressures and influences, those temptations, if they are pushing us in the wrong direction. As Jesus said to the crowd in today’s Gospel passage, it is not the things that enter into our lives that defile. We are not besmirched or corrupted by the existence of temptation. It is how we respond to temptation that stains our lives with sin.
We are made in the image of God, so we have free will. We can choose how we live our lives, how we respond to those influences and pressures and forces that enter our lives.
But being made in God’s image, we also have responsibility for the consequences of how we live our lives, whether in doing good, or doing ill to others.
We are made in the image, the image, of God. We are not God; we are not pure as he is. We are flawed. We get things wrong. We give way to the forces on us, we give way to temptation, and the result is always harm. Sometimes harm for others. Always harm for our relationship with God, and so also harm for ourselves.
It is not enough to pay lip service to God in the way Jesus accused the Pharisees and scribes of doing. We cannot point to all the many good things we do and hope they will somehow outweigh the times when we get things wrong. Nor, as James wrote in his letter, as we heard earlier, can we simply rely on a claim to having faith. If our faith in Jesus is genuine, then it will show itself in how we seek to live our lives.
And in this we have an ally. James wrote of “the implanted word that has the power to save (our) souls”. The implanted word that is the Holy Spirit. Our lives are subject to the influences and pressures, the temptations, of the world around us. But dwelling within us, implanted by God within us, is his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who, if we will listen to him, will help us resist temptation and to live lives worthy of God.
We will not always succeed, but we must always strive to follow God’s way, the way of purity and love, the way of the Holy Spirit implanted in our lives.
And when we do get things wrong, we need to say that hardest of words. We need to say “sorry”. Sorry to those we hurt, and, above all, sorry to God, for it is he that we hurt most. We need to say sorry and mean it. And use that as a spur to shape our lives ever closer to God’s calling.