The struggle against sin is familiar to all of us. Sin has pervasive effects and we confront them daily. Sometimes this involves systemic manifestations of sin that require our efforts to bring justice and peace. Terrorism, crime, and ignorance all have the capacity to oppress and encumber the human soul. Many struggle directly against these consequences of sin, and some even give their lives in the process.
But we also face an interior struggle with sin, which is a daily reality. As we learn to love God and follow Him, we find that -- like most relationships -- opening our heart to Him also involves a discovery of His heart for us as well. Today’s passage in Hebrews tells us that “God treats you as his sons.” Being a child of God is an awesome status. I sometimes address my children with that title, particularly my youngest, announcing her entrance with some drama: “Caroline Mae Morse, Child of God.” I hope this reminds her of the great love that God has for her and the privilege that this status entails.
Parenting involves making the most of opportunities for children to grow in maturity. We learn best from experience. The writer of Hebrews counsels his brothers and sisters in the Lord who are struggling against sin that they have not “resisted to the point of shedding blood.” Surely he refers here to the suffering of the Lord Jesus, whose ultimate sacrifice demonstrates the conquest in the struggle against sin. This should deflate those who are puffed up in their own abilities to resist sin, as we are not really so holy after all. He goes on to remind us that we all are children, and that God will work with us on this basis. This is humbling indeed.
During advent, I was blessed by one of the readings that contained an exhortation to bear sufferings patiently. Those who know me well understand that I do not like to bear the consequences of mistakes or failures – whether by others or myself. Usually I keep that frustration inside, but sometimes it spills out in ways that are not constructive, even hurtful. I have by no means conquered this frustration, but approaching these daily sufferings as opportunities for building patience has helped me somewhat. Frankly, it is not that comforting to think that God provided such opportunities to discipline us, but a child needs more than comfort to grow into maturity.
Pride is one of the most significant barriers to our spiritual progress, and the latter part of today’s passage in Hebrews identifies the “root of bitterness” that can grow from wounded pride. The pervasiveness of sin means it is nearly impossible to avoid wounds that come from wrongs done by others to us. Sadly, the wounds hardest to forgive seem to come from those closest to us, whether family or close friends. Despite the temptation to hang on to those wounds, we need to apply the “herbicide” of forgiveness to this root. Otherwise, that bitterness will pervade our own soul, making our struggle against sin all the more difficult.
The gospel for today reflects the truth of the human condition and the barriers that our pride erects to the work of God in our midst. Jesus observes that a prophet is not without honor except in his own native place. When our pride is wounded, resentment comes. Jesus’ own kin and countrymen presumably resent his teaching for this reason. In the same way, we often resent correction by others, choosing to dismiss the messenger instead of considering the message. That is easier when the messenger is close to us.
In contrast, the Psalmist reminds us that God knows our frame, and He remembers that we are dust. God is not surprised by our failings, or fooled by our pretensions. He sees us as His children, and loves us passionately. That is indeed a source of comfort in the struggle.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook