Paul McCartney, who of course was one of the Beatles, was once interviewed in Newsweek magazine. The interviewer mentioned that Paul wrote "Yesterday," which has been "covered" or re-done by other artists and bands over 3000 times. Paul recalled how funny he finds it that in many of those versions, the lyrics have been changed. The original version goes: "I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday." The singer admits his wrongdoing and understands why a woman he loved has left him. But in the cover versions (he mentioned Elvis by name) that line gets altered to: "I must’ve said something wrong." Which as Paul interprets it means: "I doubt very much if I did." The implication being that the singer was innocent, but the woman who left him was mistaken or too sensitive. It was her fault that she left, not his.
To me, the fact that this song has been changed in this way time and again goes to show how hard we can find it to admit that we did something wrong and accept responsibility for our actions. It’s easier to point the finger at someone else or the circumstances. Like in an old Dennis the Menace cartoon in which Dennis, in the first frame, is seen breaking a lamp while absent-mindedly running after a toy airplane. As his mother glowers over him in the next frame, Dennis shrugs his shoulders and says, "Well, maybe I could blame it on society!" The bottom line is: Admitting and confessing our sins can be hard. That’s why, whenever I’m preparing to hear confessions in church, I always ask God to give people the courage they need to come.
At times, some of us are afraid of coming to confession because we’re ashamed of what we have done. We’re too embarrassed to say out loud, even in the secrecy and anonymity of the confessional, what it is we may have done. And at a human level, that’s somewhat understandable. Maybe we grew up in an environment in which we were really put down hard for our mistakes. Our parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, ministers or whomever told us: "How could you have been so stupid? (or selfish, mean, or evil). These experiences were so painful that as adults we avoid accepting responsibility for the wrongs we do today, because we’re trying to avoid being hurt or ridiculed or shamed once again.
It’s been said that while God is happy for us to feel guilt, because guilt shows that our conscience is working and that we feel bad over something we’ve done, he doesn’t want us to feel shame, because shame makes us want to run away from God in fear. Kind of like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In other words, guilt is from God, shame is from the evil one.
Whenever shame keeps us from admitting and confessing our sins to God, it’s helpful for us to recall today’s gospel story. An individual described as a "sinful woman" crashes a dinner party at which Jesus is attending. People publicly shamed her all the time. The Pharisees, whom Jesus was eating with, would have had nothing to do with her. She was an absolute outcast. In their minds, they were the righteous ones, and to have contact with a woman like her was unthinkable. But Jesus treated her in an entirely different way. He welcomed her and understood her. He sees that she’s sorry and wants to live a different life. He praises her faith, wishes her peace, and says: "Your sins are forgiven."
Sometimes, when we approach confession, we fear that God will treat us in the way that the Pharisees treated this woman- with condemnation and rejection and scorn. And so we stay away. But the good news is that in confession, God treats us in the way that Jesus treated her- with gentleness, acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness.
Keeping our sins bottled up within ourselves never does us any good. They fester inside us and eat away at our souls. It’s been said that we’re only as sick as we are secret, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Trying to keep something from God creates a big block in the relationship between us and him. We may try to pray to him or have a relationship with him, but if we have unconfessed sins, they become the proverbial elephant in the room. And it’s not like we can keep secrets from God anyway. God knows everything we’ve done and will do. He knows our every thought and feeling and sees within the depths of our souls. Ordinarily this should fill us with consolation and joy! But when we have an unconfessed sin, we’ll feel awkwardness at best, or dread at worst.
King David of Israel, in today’s first reading, had committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed in battle. A horrific crime by any standard! And he thought he might be able to keep it as a secret from God. But God sent the prophet Nathan to tell David otherwise. David then fessed up to his crime and said, "I have sinned against the Lord." And his sin was forgiven, and the relationship was restored.
Whenever we avoid confessing our sins to God, we deny God the opportunity to show us how much we really loves us. Sin is a rejection of God’s love. But God doesn’t reject us in response. We sometimes expect him to do this, as that would be a typical human response. Instead, God wants to use our sins and an opportunity to shower us with his mercy. Because when we confess our sins and let God’s mercy flow over us, we come to realize the depth of God’s love for us in a way we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t confessed in the first place. In other words, when we fail to confess our sins, it’s not like we’re cheating God in some way. We’re only cheating ourselves.