Editors' note: Every day of Lent Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill will be providing audio reflections on the Psalms of the day as part of America's “The Word” podcast.
For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always/ Against you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight. ~ Ps 51:.5-6
One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons depicts a man and a woman facing each other. Her arms are folded, forbiddingly, across her chest. The man is saying, “I’M SORRY – I WAS WRONG.” The caption reads, “WITH NO TIME LEFT ON THE CLOCK, THE SEASON ON THE LINE, DAN UNLOADS THE HAIL MARY FOR THE WIN – UNBELIEVABLE!”
Reluctance to acknowledge one’s mistakes is not limited to males, of course (although they may have a greater market share!). When caught in the wrong, most of us are inclined to defend, excuse or rationalize our error. It wasn’t our fault, we were just reacting to provocation, we didn’t mean our words to be interpreted that way—the litany of excuses can be long indeed.
“I’m sorry—I was wrong”—these can be hard words to say. But we cannot be healed unless we first acknowledge how broken we are, or as Twelve Step programs put it, until we make a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” We might not like what such an inventory may yield. But those items – pettiness, envy, excessive criticism of others, thoughtlessness, failure to listen, deliberate unkindness – those are what we must offer to God.
God wants nothing less from us than a heart and a spirit truly chastened by our deep and full awareness of our sin. The means to mercy is not by defending, excusing, or ignoring our offenses, but by humbling ourselves to say both to God and to others, “I’m sorry—I was wrong.”
Lord Jesus Christ, Give me the humility and the moral courage to acknowledge my sins both to you and to all those in my life whom I have offended. Amen.
For today’s readings, click here.