Bar 1:15-22 / Mt 18:1-5, 10
Amidst their elaborate array of rituals for every season and purpose, the Israelites regularly offered a sacrifice that is particularly intriguing. It was called “the sacrifice for our unknown sins.” How very realistic they were about the human condition!
Which one among us has not awakened at some point or other to the ugly fact of a deed or an habitual pattern of living that is very simply wrong? Which one among us has not averted our eyes or covered our ears when the voice of conscience began to whisper its protests? And when at last there was no avoiding it, and we saw the truth and saw the hurts, then, as Baruch says in the reading, “…our faces flushed with shame” and our hearts groaned for forgiveness.
Not just once has this happened to us, but many times across the years — unless we are truly brain-dead. And it gives us pause as we contemplate the present. What are we not seeing and not hearing now? For even the best of us, the answer is almost certainly: Much too much.
So where does that leave us? It should leave us in a posture of profound humility and circumspection: “Take it for granted we’re not seeing everything in ourselves that our neighbor sees and has to endure in us.” If we accept that as truth, the next step is self-evident and not optional. We have to extend to our neighbors the understanding heart that we absolutely need from them.
They need it, we owe it, and it’s the only sacrifice for our unknown faults that really works in the end.