I stole a necklance whenI I was in the third grade. It glinted from the inside corner of Kim's desk across the aisle – an exotic choker with a black velvet strap an a single, brilliant faux sapphire. While Mrs. Chase bent over Kim's shoulder, I quickly reached over and slid my fingers into the open desk, grabbed the velvet strand and balled it into the front pocket of my corduroys.
According to my Catholic faith, stealing was a mortal sin – the worst kind, made especially egregious because I knew when I stole the necklace that it was wrong. Stealing was a ticket straight to Hell, unless I chose to confess the theft to my priest.
The problem was, I couldn’t bring myself to confess the sin. I tried, believe me.
I’d slip behind the red, velvet curtain of the confessional box and crouch on the plush kneeler, but when the window slid open and the quiet voice of the priest on the other side urged me to begin my confession, I froze. I’d rattle off my standard list of sins – disobeying my parents, antagonizing my sister – but I always swallowed any mention of the big one.
I lived with that sin hanging over my head for years, convinced and terrified that I would burn in Hell, yet even more terrified to confess the sin. After all, I was a good girl – someone who got good grades, delivered newspapers after school, always did her chores and visited Aunt Belle in the nursing home without complaint. I was polite and had polite, good girl friends. I wasn’t the type of girl who stole. That kind of sin, the hellacious mortal sin, didn’t fit into my good girl world. That kind of sin was too bad; it was the kind of sin committed by “other people,” very bad people.
It took me a couple of decades, but I finally got over the guilt of the stolen necklace. Yet I didn’t quite dismiss the notion that some sins are worse than others, and that the people who commit those worse sins are worse off than me. I couldn’t shake the assumption that some people – say those imprisoned for theft or murder or pedophilia – seemed more sinful than me…and less deserving of forgiveness. I had a whole hierarchy of sins worked out, and I figured if I stayed ahead of most of those sinners on the bottom rungs, then hey, I was doing okay, right?
That formula worked perfectly until I read Romans 3:23:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
It seems God doesn’t have the same hierarchy I do. According to God, all of us sin, and all of us fall short of the glory of God. God doesn’t say that the murderer falls further; he simply lumps all of together as sinners.
This means, of course, that if the murderer repents his sin, he gets the same grace I get. Part of me protests, “No fair! How can the murderer get the same grace as me? Shouldn’t the murderer get at least a little less grace?” But that’s the whole point, of course. It’s not fair, because none of us, no matter how egregious or inconsequential we consider our sins, deserves grace.
God doesn’t choose one repentant sinner over another. In fact, he chooses all of us, time and time again. In the end, the question is whether we choose to accept that grace.
With Jen and Soli Deo Gloria:
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