At Mass this weekend, all three readings have a common theme: repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
An interesting perspective on this theme was offered a few years ago by Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2. He was interviewed by a secular writer, who mocked religious faith. Bono, who is a Christian, didn’t get angry or defensive. Instead he began to explain the Good News. “It’s a mind-blowing concept,” he said, “that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.”
When asked to explain that statement, Bono said, “At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you….And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that…. Love interrupts the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of [sinful] stuff.”
“I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge,” Bono continued. “It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross.”
Even more interesting was the interviewer’s reaction. “The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world,” he marveled. “I wish I could believe in that….That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view.”
God’s grace is so wonderful that it is indeed close to lunacy. Except it is true.
The interviewer had never even heard of the concept of grace, or the basic Gospel message of the forgiveness of sin through the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The idea that we can freely be forgiven, no matter how terrible our sins, seems to be lunacy when people first hear about it. It doesn’t fit in with our ingrained belief about karmic justice: if you do the crime you gotta do the time, what goes around comes around, and payback is a…well, you get the idea.
For many people who have never heard the Gospel message, the answer to the problem of karmic justice oftentimes simply is to deny that sin is real. This is why our secularized culture is so messed up these days. On second thought, there is one thing that is considered sinful in our relativistic modern culture: declaring that sin is real. The only thing that is absolutely wrong is to say certain things are absolutely wrong. The only thing that is not allowed is to say certain behaviors are not allowed.
Denying that sin exists may sidestep the problem of karmic justice, and it may give people some peace and comfort temporarily, but the plain reality for those willing to open their eyes and look around is that sin is all too real.
Although the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23), the solution to the problem is not to pretend that sin doesn’t exist, the solution is found at the foot of the Cross. The solution, as Bono mentioned, is Grace. God’s love interrupts the consequences of our actions.
It’s undeniable: we all screw up big time and we deserve to pay the penalty for our selfish and hurtful behavior. But God loves us too much to see us lost for all eternity. He paid the price Himself for our wickedness. If, as the readings this week explain, we repent of our sins and turn to the Lord in sincere faith, He will forgive us. He will shower us with His Grace. And that is Good News for me, and for U2.