SIN AS/AND SICKNESS: A SERMON ON TUESDAY, 4TH WEEK OF LENT
There was a man whose name is ‘Unbelievable’, and even that is ‘unbelievable’. At his old age, he became uncomfortable with this name and on his death-bed, he told his wife that he will not want to be remembered with that name. He told his wife ‘Whatever you write on my grave’, don’t write ‘Unbelievable’. After his death, his wife wrote on his grave ‘I have been married to this man for 36 years and not once did he get angry with me.’ When people passed by and saw this sign, they will say ‘This is unbelievable!’
One of the things we can consider unbelievable is the age of some people in the Old Testament. We read that Adam lived to be 930 years old, Seth was 912, Enosh was 905, Jared was 962, Methusela was 969, Noah 600, Shem 600, Eber 464, Abraham 175, Moses 120, David 70. Yesterday God promised us that those who die at 100 will be dying young. Many scholars have found different ways to interpret this. Some said the way years were counted then is not the same as what we do today. Others have said those years only symbolised wisdom and influence. But it is important to see how the life-span drops after each generation. By the time it came to David, it had dropped to 70. Even David himself wrote that our span is 70 or 80 for those who are strong. He himself was not strong after all.
Msgr. Charles Pope did a research on this issue. Though there is no conclusive explanation, he argues that we can decide to either argue it away or believe it as it is said. I have decided to believe it as it is said. Believing that makes us see that our sinful life can be linked to our short span of years. Sin is the worse of all sicknesses and the deadliest. That is why both penance and anointing of the sick are considered sacraments of healing. Today, Jesus makes a strong connection between physical sickness and sin.
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “‘The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was crowd in the place. Afterwards, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who healed him. And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath.: The reference to sin in this passage is unbelievable. It is as if Jesus is saying ‘whoever is sick is sick because they have sinned’. That is not what Jesus is saying either. However, there is a strong connection Jesus is making us to see between sin and sickness. This is why sin is its own punishment. God does not need to punish the sinner. The sin itself comes with evil consequences. What are these consequences? We find them in the story of the prodigal son.
The sinner is a slave while the righteous is free. All sins enslave the sinner, and this slavery happens gradually in stages. Like we see in the first reading, it first gets to the ankle, then it gets to the knee, then to the loins, then it consumes the person. This is very true with sins of pleasure. A person will start with one bottle of beer from time to time. Before you know it, the person graduates to one bottle or more daily. Before long, the person becomes a drunkard. The same can be said of sex, or drugs, or pornography, or masturbation, or overeating. It starts little by little and before you know it, the person becomes a slave. Nobody wants to be a slave. If you think of all the sins listed here, those who are slaves to these sins end up with one health issue or another. Tell me there is no connection between sin and physical health, between sin and longevity. When a person has become enslaved, sometimes their healing will also come gradually and in stages.
In those days: [The angel] brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the right side of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar towards the east. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces towards the east; and the water was coming out on the right side. Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant water of the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes every living creature which swims will live, and there will be very many fish for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not whither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.: The water here is like the grace of God. Whenever we sin, we are said not to be in a state of grace. Not being in a state of grace is like a fish outside of water or like a tree that is not getting enough water. The life-span of such fish or tree will be shortened. So, as unbelievable as it may sound that people of old lived so long in relation to us, it becomes believable when we look at it from the point of view of sin. When the youngest son sinned, he ended up very hungry and even living like a slave. The eldest son said he had been slaving for his father. Developing the identity of a Beloved Child of God is important, because it helps us to know that we are sons/daughters of God and so we cannot afford to be slaves to sin.
When we become slaves we become helpless and desperate. The man at the pool today is desperate and helpless. He cannot help himself. This is why he needed a saviour in the person of Christ to set him free. Somebody here is struggling with a particular sin. It is easy to say ‘I will stop’, but it is important like the man at the pool to say ‘I cant help myself, and nobody has been able to help me either. Only Jesus can set me free’. He does that through the action of the priest in the sacrament of reconciliation. But the same Jesus tells us that God will not forgive those who have refused to forgive those who sin against them.
Unforgiveness is the easiest way to build a prison for yourself, and while holding the key, a part of you is begging to be released and another part of you is refusing to open to door. Unforgivenss can lead to many psychological and even physical sicknesses. When we refuse to forgive those who have offended us, our minds know no peace. Each time we see that person, we no longer feel good. The jailer is also a prisoner. You think you are punishing that person, but you are punishing yourself. It is not for the sake of the offender that we must forgive, but for our own sake. It is for our own sanity and well-being that we must forgive others. There is nothing more selfish than forgiving those who have sinned against you. Some people glory in having enemies. There is nothing like going to bed and sleeping at once, without fear or worries. But good sleep eludes people who keep enemies. Tell me there is no connection between sin, un-forgiveness, and physical sickness.
There are 7 sins that are considered deadly and when they are called deadly, they are no called deadly only in the spiritual sense but also in the physical sense. They are, Pride, Greed, Envy, Lust, Gluttony (which includes drunkenness and drug addiction), Sloth, and Wrath.
Pride kills because in our pride we can enter into unnecessary competition and trying to become what we are not. Humble people live longer. Greed kills. We continue to want and want and want untill we are done. Nobody dies faster than someone who is never satisfied. Envy kills as we continue to compete and be sad about other people’s success, which eventually leaves us unsuccessful. Lust kills in so many ways, beginning from sexually transmitted diseases to all kinds of troubles we can get into. Gluttony makes us consume things in an unhealthy way and the health hazard here is very obvious. Sloth kills when inability to cooperate with the grace of God eventually leaves us disgraced. Perhaps what should have been the first, wrath kills, because as we continue to try to harm another person, we end up harming ourselves. Forgiving our offenders is one of the secrets of a healthy life.
Research has shown that catholics achieve better health of mind and body due to the sacraments of Penance, Anointing and Holy Eucharist. These sacraments are our ways of planting ourselves in the presence of God, and we are watered daily, and this water gives us life; not only eternal life, but even life in this world. Holy people are usually happy people and happy people are usually healthy people. What is unbelievable is not that people of old lived as long as they did. What is unbelievable is that all our so-called technological advancement have not helped us to advance in knowing how to preserve our lives. Of course all those in the Old Testament also sinned and they all died, but it seems we have taken sin to another level. The gospel of today is not the only place where Jesus made a connection between sin and physical sickness. Yes, Jesus made that connection and so should you.