By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton


This picture shows one of the panels on the holy door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I have always loved it, and it speaks beautifully of the Good Shepherd reaching out to save the lost. That's the reason for hope.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Encounter with Truth that Leads to Life

We all need a “Nathan moment”, perhaps many of them.

King David is experiencing one in yesterday’s first reading of Sunday Mass (cf. 2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13). The prophet Nathan is sent by God to speak God’s word of judgment to David, and this word brings the king to a profound and terrible awareness of the depth of his sin. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and then arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle. One would think that David would not have needed anyone to tell him that what he had done was horrible, and a grievous sin in the sight of God. Yet it was only when he had his “Nathan moment,” only, that is, when he encountered the Word of God, that he saw with sudden and total clarity how he had turned away from the goodness of God and needed to rely once again not on his own judgment but on the merciful love of the Lord. Struck to the core with remorse, he repents immediately. “I have sinned against the Lord,” David says, and then Nathan announces the Lord’s gift of forgiveness. In a “Nathan moment” we are given by God the gift of a clear vision and an inescapable awareness of truth, that, yes, will be humbling and painful, but are aimed at new life and real hope.

When things are not right in our lives, we often find it difficult to pinpoint the reason. Our first tendency is to externalize blame and find fault with other people or circumstances. Yet even if we do recognize that the cause is our own attitudes or behaviours, we still may not be able to see what needs to change. If we try to figure things out on our own, we will often remain in the dark. What is needed is a “Nathan moment”, an encounter with the Word of God. Acting as a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths (cf. Psalm 119:105), this divine Word clarifies our whole life and shows us where change is needed.

Perhaps an analogy from the game of golf would be helpful to illustrate this. When I swing the club, it is anyone’s guess where the golf ball will end up. My immediate reaction to a stray shot is to blame anything but myself, such as the ball, the club, or a tree. Acceptance of fault is not easy. Yet when I admit the obvious and recognize that somehow I am at fault for the errant drive, it is still difficult to see what I am doing wrong. It might feel like I am doing everything right, but the ball still goes awry. I need someone who understands golf well to point out the errors. When I allow a golf professional to watch my swing, then he will see right away what needs to be changed. If I make the adjustments that are necessary, if I admit error and change, my game improves. A humbling experience! But a necessary one.

The “pro” who can see the entirety of our lives in a single glance and speak the words that lead to new life is, of course, Jesus Christ. Therefore we must continually place ourselves before his glance. King David encountered the prophet Nathan who spoke the Word of God. We encounter the One who not only speaks but also is the Word of God incarnate: Jesus Christ. The “Nathan moment” he brings to us addresses not only particular events but also the entirety of our lives. Think of the encounters with Jesus experienced by Peter (cf. John 1:42), Nathaniel (cf. John 1: 47-51), the rich young man (cf. Mark 10:21) and the woman of Samaria (cf. John 4: 4-42). Because he is the Son of God incarnate through whom all things were made (cf. Colossians 1:16), Jesus knew them thoroughly by simply looking at them. Allowing the Lord to look at us will bring us to an awareness of our own truth as well. He will reveal to us our belovedness, first of all, but also our sin and the need to change. The encounter with Jesus is a “Nathan moment” which reorients our lives completely.

The Gospel from yesterday’s Mass gives us an example of someone who has accepted and lived through a “Nathan moment.” Jesus sees a woman come into the home of his host in order to kiss his feet and bathe them with her tears and with ointment. We are not told the circumstances of her life, but Jesus knows right away that she has come to an awareness not only of her “many sins” but also of God’s forgiving love (cf. Luke 7:36-50). She has had a “Nathan moment,” and what is the result? She is filled with thanksgiving and, no longer held captive by the opinion of others, she gives free expression to the love within her that is liberated by forgiveness. Repentance gives birth to freedom and releases love. The “Nathan moment” sets us on the path to a new beginning; it leads to life and gives birth to hope.

Let us all pray for the grace of a new “Nathan moment” in our own lives through a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ.