Father Joseph Kim began his homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada, with a discussion of what “Sin,” means. He pointed to recent studies showing how our society does not know the meaning of the word. Young people at confession complain how they do not have anything to confess.
One definition of sin comes from, All Saints Greek Orthodox Church. It means, “Missing the mark,’ an archery term. If you hit the target dead center you ‘hit the mark.’ If you hit the first ring that was one ‘amartia,’ two rings, two ‘amarties.’ Sin can be considered the lack of perfection. No one is perfect; everyone is guilty of ‘amartia.”
As Father Joseph Kim discussed “Sin,” the movie “Men in Black,” came to mind. In the film a police officer Edwards takes a marksmanship test complete with strange monsters and innocent looking people, who agent Edwards recognizes as the real targets. He passes the test and is admitted into the special police program. Other officers confuse the monsters for the targets and fail the test. It is possible to hit all the targets, dead on, and fail the test, hitting the wrong targets.
After Mass, a fellow parishioner hit this target as she related how her employer was hitting his budgetary goals by reducing most of his staff to part time, saving on both employee costs and eliminating benefits, eliminating those costs. He hit his bulls’ eyes, causing senior people to look for work elsewhere. He will probably run his company out of business. He hit the wrong targets.
In Jewish tradition, Torah has three parts, Haggadah, or story, Hallacha, or the walk, and Midrash, or interpretation. Deuteronomy relates the walk, “The Personal Name will make you the head not the tail, the top not the bottom, if you listen to the Mitzvah of the Personal Name, your Mighty Judge. This is the Mitzvah I give you today, guarding carefully not to turn aside, either to the right or to the left, from any of the words, which I give you today.”
In our lives, we all walk to the Promised Land as we walk through life from conception to the grave. Either we are on the right road, or we are on the wrong road. Deuteronomy tells us how it does matter if we are to the right of the main road, or to the left. Either we are on the right road, or we are not. The other two roads take us to the wrong places.
Another story is the story of the young man who looked at the Ten Commandments and related, “I do not believe in gods, so do not believe in false ones. Because I do not believe in gods, I take the name of no gods in vain. I do not work on weekends. Because I am lazy, I do not work on Sabbath. I honor father and mother; they did great things for me in my life. I did not kill anybody. I am celibate. I do not steal. I have never seen the inside of a courtroom, so never bear false witness, and I do not desire what belongs to my neighbor. If God exists, I go to heaven.
This young man has not violated any commandments, but he is on the wrong road. He is much like the rich young man of Mark 10:17. He does not feel any oppression, so receives no rescue. He never makes the inconvenient march to the Promised Land and never receives eternal life.
St. Luke related of St. Peter in Luke 5:1-11. When we experience perfection, “Shalom,” or “Peace,” we experience just how imperfect we really are. Like St. Peter we say, “Depart from me, Kyrie, for I am a deviant.” Unlike the rich young man, we force ourselves to look at the Ten Commandments again. We realize it begins, “I am the Personal Name your Almighty Judge who rescued you.” We remember our rescue, through our parents, from the poverty of 19th century Europe, and the sweatshops of twentieth century America. We remember what it was like to be a slave in the Deep South, and what it means to suffer racial bigotry. Then we do something. We realize how lack of action is missing the mark, failing, “Amartia.”
Father Joe Kim related the story of the marksman at the Olympics. If he misses practice one day, he notices the difference in his skill. If he misses a week, his wife notices the difference. If he continues to miss practice, he will miss his trip to the Olympics. He will become angry and blame God. He will go into rebellion. After years of anger, frustration, and disappointment, he will realize, if only he had practiced, he could have gone to the Olympics. Hebrew has over twenty-two words for “Sin,” and they move along the continuum of simple error, to rebellion, to violence, to penance.
No matter how far removed we are from the road to the Promised Land, no matter how intentional our failure might be, it is all simple error, because if we had known God loves us, we would not have missed our practice and suffered the results.