Please Read Instructions
I upgraded my coffee maker last Friday. The store promotion included a free carousel for the pre-packaged coffee pods valued at $25. And when I opened the box, I also found the instruction manual. Now I consider myself a person of slightly above average intelligence. But I do not particularly like reading instruction manuals when everything seems so obvious. But I knew I was going to tell you about this experience in a homily one day, so I forced myself to go through the motions to establish why I do not read instruction manuals. “Congratulations on your purchase of a new coffee maker! Soon you will be enjoying a cup of your favorite hot beverage. But first you must read all instructions in detail before unpacking the contents of this box.” I was determined not to be violent when a household appliance insults my intelligence, so I kept reading. “Place the box on its side on a clean level surface so as to easily slide its contents out. Carefully remove the plastic bag, and be sure to keep it out of the reach of children. Do not expose this appliance to direct sunlight. Do not place it near a fire or a hot surface. Do not use it in the shower or tub. Do not stick metal objects into openings while the machine is in use. Children under 12 should not operate this machine without close adult supervision.” I figured I was not learning anything about operating the machine that I did not already know. So I put the booklet aside and figured out the rest without further loss of dignity, self-esteem, and faith in the inherent goodness of the human race.
Most things we purchase from a store come with instructions and warnings, even if we think we can figure out how to work them on our own. Some instructions are just absurd. Here are a few. On a hair dryer: Do not use while sleeping. On a bag of corn chips: You may be a winner. No purchase necessary. Details inside. On a bar of soap: Use like regular soap. On a curling iron: For external use only. On sleep aid medication: Warning. May cause drowsiness. On a coffee cup to go: Caution. Hot beverages are hot. In a microwave oven manual: Do not use for drying pets. On a box of aspirin: Do not take if allergic to aspirin. On a ketchup bottle: Use on food. On a can of air freshener: For use by trained personnel only. On a toilet cleaning brush: Do not use orally. On a TV remote: Not dishwasher safe. On a mattress: Do not attempt to swallow. On a bottle of wine: Open bottle before drinking. On a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle: Some assembly required. On a muffin packet: Remove wrapper, open mouth, insert muffin, eat. On a child seat carrier: Remove infant before storing. Who writes these things, really?
Now sometimes instructions might actually help, like for new-fangled electronic gadgets, and birthday cake mix, and babies especially when parents bring one home for the first time. I always thought by now someone would have written that instruction manual. But no, human beings don’t come with instructions. That’s why we have laws. But laws are only as smart as the people who make them. God has laws, too. But we don’t always pay attention. Sometimes we just don’t like being told what to do.
King David did a very bad thing. The story we read today from the second book of Samuel has been properly sanitized for your listening pleasure, as we do not expect to have to encounter deception, adultery, and murder in church ever. If you wish, you may read the sordid details on your own. It wasn’t that David didn’t know to treat his neighbor with dignity and respect. He was blinded by his lust and power. Perhaps he thought he would get away with it because he was king, and no one would find out. But we can never hide from God. God knows us better than anyone, even the things we would never admit to ourselves. But when we act contrary to our nature, when we do harm to ourselves or to others, or when we misuse our freedom, we show disregard and disrespect to our Creator who made us in his own image and likeness, and who ultimately desires our good and our happiness. Whenever we act selfishly, and all sin is selfishness, we disrupt the bond between us and our neighbor, and between us and God. Yet God does not love us any less. Instead, he offers us a hand in compassion and reconciliation, to make things right, and send us on our way. Our sin has no power to hurt God. When we sin, we only hurt ourselves and others, and the world around us.
So when Jesus first made his appearance in Israel, his message was of repentance and healing. “Repent and believe in the gospel.” God desires that we live up to the dignity he gave us, because only by it do we find fulfillment. Sin disrupts the flow of grace into our lives, corrupts our thinking, and distorts our relationships. Everything God created, he created for good. He may not have included an instruction manual, but we can discover his purpose when we are attentive to his voice, when we are obedient to his will. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we stumble. That is no surprise to God, who is well aware we are not perfect. But God does not condemn us. Instead God offers us healing and renewal. God desires what is best for us, and will not love us any less no matter how grave our transgression or how often we sin.
But God also appreciates a response from us in freedom, some acknowledgment of his presence and role in our lives, even gratitude for the blessings we often take for granted, as we would extend to our own parents and those who love us before we had a clue. We know our parents are pleased when we live our lives consistent with the values they lived and taught. And when our relationship with them is strained, we have to admit it is usually we who are being stubborn and ungrateful. Usually. It is a limited metaphor. No matter how good our parents are, and some of them are exceptional, God is way better still. So in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, God invites us to be reconciled to himself and to our neighbor, and to know peace in our hearts once again.
The woman in the gospel story was a public sinner. Everyone knew who she was, and what she had done. And compared with public sinners, we are not as inclined to see our own need for forgiveness and healing. Like Simon the Pharisee, we like to think we are good enough, and have no need to admit our faults, ask forgiveness, and be reconciled with God. In the end, St. Paul writes the Galatians, our justification does not come from our observance of the Law, but rather through faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, by all means, we should probably obey the Law. But we also know that the Law has no power to heal. Healing comes about when we recognize a personal connection with God who made us and desires our good. An instruction manual might help prevent improper use or abuse. And real life experience teaches us best in hindsight. God is not in the business of punishing sinners. We do that well on our own. Instead God is in the business of forgiveness and healing. But we do not receive if we do not ask.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016