Thursday, November 5, 2015
The Sin of the Lamb
The Gospel this morning (Luke 15) concerned the Good Shepherd, who on seeing one of His lambs missing, leaves the 99 and searches for the missing one, and rejoices over finding it: even as “there will be … rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner.” How many times had I heard that Gospel, and found comfort in recalling that God is always there for me; that He fiercely loves me, and He rejoices even as (in another parable) the father of the Prodigal Son did upon his return.
But then, this morning, I thought about and saw a difference between those two parables: the Prodigal Son chose to return and to ask forgiveness, but the lamb didn’t. The Prodigal Son’s sin seems obvious, but what was the (innocent??) lamb’s sin?
It occurs to me that the Prodigal Son’s sin was very overt; he chose to reject and leave his father. He may have realized it was a sin, but he chose to strike out and leave his father anyway. He may have known how hurt his father would be --- and yet still he left. I’d like to think that I know The Father and would never choose to leave Him, and am always trying not to disappoint Him. In many ways I’d like to believe I am not at all like that Prodigal Son, and never will be ---- or at least not any more. But what of that lamb: Am I like him?
From one point of view I’d like to think the lamb was innocent, like a young babe in the woods, if you will. It wouldn’t choose to sin (and neither would I, of course). But elsewhere it was written about how the lamb knew the voice of the Shepherd, and came when He called --- but yet this lamb didn’t.
I perceive that the lamb in the story in Luke exhibits what we call concupiscence, a tendency to sin which came upon man as a result of the Fall of Adam. Adam very deliberately chose sin, kind of like the Prodigal Son, and so he was cast out of the Garden of Eden, lost eternal life and further, he was given to concupiscence. In effect God said to Adam: “Since you deliberately chose sin, I will now give you a ready openness to sin --- you wanted these things, these earthly things, so now you can readily have them, but if you really want Me and eternal life, in the future you will have to deliberately choose Me. The choice will be yours.
And so we were left knowing the Good Shepherd, knowing His voice, His love for us, yet still having a tendency to wander away, kind of like the lamb. Is it a sin, this tendency? No, but it is a sin to act on it, to not choose the God who wants to love and care for us, to wander, thinking we can care for ourselves.
But is this really a serious sin, this naivety? Certainly we’d like to think not, but if we’ve been exposed to the Shepherd’s voice and know it, the innocence of our wandering is gone. Our choice to leave is no different than that made by the Prodigal Son.
But this sin seems so subtle, like our curiosity about things --- we almost can’t help it. How do we avoid it? I’m reminded of St. Ignatius’ Rules for Discernment of Spirits (I wrote about them in the past). One of the rules talks about what we should do when we are in times of consolation --- when we know that God is with us and our actions --- kind of like when the lamb is in the presence of the Good Shepherd. Then, when all is well, we need to spend some time thinking about what could go wrong: what are our weaknesses; what temptations might we be prone to give in to: concupiscence temptations that easily appeal to us. Then, Ignatius states, we should be developing defenses to fight these temptations when we first feel them. (Perhaps like the lamb, looking for the Shepherd’s words or His face for confidence; these might be part of a long term plan.)
And then Ignatius had another rule: what should we do when we realize we are given in to sin and are lost? Ignatius rule: Don’t change anything! When you feel you are in the sway of an evil spirit, continue to do all you were doing; like the lamb was near the Shepherd, seeking His face or words. For us, that might mean continuing to pray as before, and then trust that the Shepherd is looking for us --- and so don’t wander further astray.
I think that many of my sins these days are not deliberate, but that does not mean they do not exist. It does mean, however, they are more subtle, more natural to me, like the lamb wandering off. They are sins that arise without my even thinking or desiring them.
Like St. Paul, I know right from wrong and I choose right --- but sometimes still do wrong. And sometimes I forget: There are wolves out there!
And so at times when we are tempted to “try something new,” it is wise to remember this parable of the lamb which wandered off to try someplace new, and ask ourselves: “Where is this temptation coming from?” And as we go, are we listening for the Shepherd’s voice nearby?