"Things that come from within are what defile"
Mark 7: 14-23
The other day I noticed a lawn sign outside someone's home. It read: "Your mistakes do not define you." At first I thought, "of course not." Because we may have done things in the past, or even the present that are less than perfect, we should never be held captive by being "defined" by the mistakes we have made. If something happened twenty years ago, for example, and I no longer find myself in a bad way, it would be highly unfair to define me by what happened back then and form an opinion about me today. We've all made mistakes of course but our mistakes should not define us.Unless, of course, we have never made an effort to change. "Once a liar always a liar." Well, maybe not. Everyone deserves a chance to improve. Fair enough.
Yet, the more I thought about that statement I felt it may have also said: "Your sins do not define you." Then I thought it would be an interesting question to ask what the difference is between a "mistake" and a "sin." Think about that for a moment . . . . . . .
Sin is religious language whereas the word mistake we may say is non-religious. Aren't they really the same? Not exactly. We all make mistakes but a sin is defined by a deeper relationship. If everything is only a mistake why would I need God? All I would have to say is, "Whoops - I'm sorry or excuse me" and move on.
We believe sin to be an offense against the law of God, principally the Covenant of Sinai, the ten commandments. All the social implications of the Commandments apply in a wide variety of situations of our relationships in human society. The first four commandments concern our relationship to God as One, Holy, and Sacred. The next six define our relationship to others: respect others, be honest, no killing, respect for other persons, our parents and property of others and our self. An offense against these divine principals we call sin. Some may be more serious than others but they all offend the law of God and diminish our call to personal holiness. We have the sacrament of reconciliation of course so that we may name our offenses, be forgiven by a merciful God, and move on to improve our moral and spiritual lives.
Yet, if something is only a mistake there is no higher consideration about a divine/human relationship, no particular call to live a holy life, and no strong sense of personal responsibility or accountability. "Whoops, sorry." That's it. One difference, then, between a sin and a mistake may be relationship. My accountability is not only to my fellow man and woman but is ultimately also to God my creator. A loftier more meaningful and significant implication.
Of course, not everything is a sin. We do make mistakes. "Sin language" is not meant to be overly scrupulous but to call us to a higher moral code: love God and love your neighbor.
Our Gospel this Wednesday hears Jesus speak about the origin of sin; that it comes not from without, no foods are unclean that enter us, but rather from a heart that has been weakened or stained by the affects of Original sin. In this way, he set in perspective the Jewish overemphasis on the external while minimizing the internal brokenness we all carry and from which Jesus came to heal.
We are created in God's image and likeness. The world is a beautiful and good creation of God. Yet, sin has stained us and we should never be surprised, I suppose, by how far that weakness may potentially take us without some effort on our part to seek virtue after the example of Christ himself.
We are all capable of grave and serious sin. To say "I am not" is to place pride above grace.
Yet, through God's grace we are also capable of rising to great virtue and goodness. The whole sacramental life of the Church is Jesus' spiritual tool box given to us to aid us in the search for holiness. His promise of mercy and forgiveness is offered so that we may rise above our weakness not for our glory but for his.
Trust in God's mercy, seek forgiveness, set your heart on the higher values of faith, hope and charity.
We are created in the image and likeness of God and that is what "defines" me.