“who invented the sacrament of confession?” jesus christ wonders
NEIGHBOR Pay me now or I’ll kill you, you dirty thief!
YOUTH Screw you, scumbag, now you’re going to find out…
RACHEL We continue now in the vicinity of the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. After this unexpected street incident, things are returning to normal, and Emisoras Latinas renews its broadcast.
JESUS Why were those people fighting, Rachel?
RACHEL I have no idea. Perhaps because of some unpaid debt. [to radio audience] But this is a good opportunity for us to ask Jesus Christ, who once again is with us, what he thinks about what we’ve just seen. Certainly in your time, Jesus, you never saw things like that…
JESUS No, I saw people fighting over debts and resorting to violence… But listen, Rachel, weren’t we just talking about confessing sins, there inside the church,?
RACHEL Yes, we were, and so…?
JESUS Well, this is a perfect example. What would those two guys who were fighting have to do in order to be reconciled with God? Go and confess to a priest who doesn’t even know them? Who’s hidden away in a cage inside the church?
RACHEL Well, even though I’m not the one being interviewed here – you are! – I’ll tell you what I think I think they should fix things up between the two of them.
JESUS Exactly, that’s what they should do. Because it makes no sense for me to offend Matthew and then go to confess to Zachary.
RACHEL But wouldn’t it be better for them to ask for forgiveness directly from God?
JESUS The thing is, if you don’t ask for forgiveness from your brother, whom you see, how can you ask for forgiveness from God, whom you don’t see? If you don’t pay back the person you robbed, what’s the sense of paying somebody else back?
RACHEL Please speak clearly about this, Jesus. What should we do with this thing we call the sacrament of confession?
JESUS As that friend of yours, Rafael, just explained, this confession business has no doubt caused many people to feel guilty and fearful. I think we should forget about it.
RACHEL According to you, then, what should two persons who are at odds with one another do to be reconciled?
JESUS They should talk together, the two of them alone. They should forgive one another.
RACHEL And if they can’t come to an agreement?
JESUS Then they should seek a third party and talk with him.
RACHEL And if they can’t resolve the problem even among the three of them?
JESUS Well, in that case, they should present the problem to the community. That’s what we used to do in our movement. I remember once when Peter was furious with James and John because of something they had said. “Forget it, Peter,” I told him. And he said to me “This isn’t the first time they been scheming together.” “Forgive them, Peter.” “How many times do I have to forgive those two scoundrels?” he asked me. Twice? Four times? Seven?
RACHEL And what did you tell him?
JESUS Not seven times, but even seventy times seven, Peter. That’s the confession that has true value when people forgive one another.
RACHEL Nevertheless, Mr. Christ, I’ve gone through the gospels. And here, in John’s gospel, you told the priests clearly “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” And it says also in Matthew’s gospel “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” And so?
JESUS And so nothing. I said that, but not to any priest. I said it to the community. It’s the community that pardons, not the priest. It’s in community that we forgive one another, not in the dark corners of the temples.
RACHEL And not in those prayer and miracle services, where the pastors and preachers sing and shout and pardon the crowds?
JESUS We really don’t need priests or pastors or preachers to forgive sins. What I said was quite simple. If you offend someone, ask the person for pardon and don’t repeat the offense. If someone offends you, forgive him. And God, who lives in the community and knows what is in your heart, will also forgive you. Seventy times seven times he will forgive you. Always.
RACHEL We these new declarations of Jesus Christ we bring our program to an end for today. Rachel Perez, Emisoras Latinas, Jerusalem.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
Seventy times seven
Jesus reminds Rachel of a discussion he had with Peter, James and John (Matthew 18,21-35), which he concluded by telling Peter that he had to forgive “seventy times seven times”.
In the Hebrew culture the number seven had a special significance, which originated from observation of the four phases of the moon, each of which lasts seven days. Because of that the Israelites came to associate the number seven with a “complete” period of time. Seven signified for Israel the “totality” desired by God. The Hebrew ordering of time was based on the number seven: the Sabbath, the sacred day, occurred every seven days. Forgiving seven times meant forgiving completely. Seventy is a combination of seven and ten. If seven was plenitude and totality, then ten – whose symbolic meaning derives from the ten fingers on our hands – also had the character of a “complete” number, although less so than the number seven. “Seventy times seven” means “always, without exception, despite everything”.
It is in community where we forgive one another
The practice of the early Church understood individual conversion and forgiveness to be related to the community, whereas the theology of the Middle Ages held that the pardon of individual sins came through the mediation of a priest.
The practice of individual confession (the penitent before the priest, the secrecy, the enumeration and detailing of all one’s sin) has for years now been called into question since it is a practice that intimidates people. For that reason, after the Second Vatican Council many Catholic communities developed new ways of celebrating this sacrament, in which the public declaration of sins was done away with, but the spirit of repentance was preserved. As the faithful humbly recognized the errors they had committed, the priest would give a general absolution to the whole assembly. These communal celebrations of penance represented an important advance, though it was still the priest who “pardoned”. More recent developments, promoted by Pope John Paul II and out of step with Vatican II, have attempted to reinstate the practice of individual confession.
In other Christian churches there has always been more openness in this regard. For example, in “The Book of Common Prayer” of the Anglican Church the people are offered two options: either communal reconciliation in a penitential service or private confession, which is not obligatory; rather the rule is: everybody can, some should, nobody is obliged.
James, the brother of Jesus, in his letter (5,16) writes: Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. There are some people who see in this verse as an invitation to confess one’s sins “in community” and therefore to forgive one another in community, not necessarily with the mediation of a priest as the official “forgiver”. In his first letter John speaks of recognizing and confessing our sins before God, not before a priest: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1,9).
The spirit of Jesus’ message shows us that to be forgiven we must approach God and the community, and especially the person whom we have hurt with our sin. We forgive one another in confessing to one another the harm that we have done. In some cases, words will not be necessary, but only gestures, which at times are more eloquent than words. Sins are “forgiven” through personal repentance and the mediation of the community. Sins are “forgiven” through “conversion”, changing our lives, repairing the damage done.
A clear message
Jesus spoke about forgiveness with such great clarity that it’s hard to miss his message. He said that if we offend someone we should seek out that person and dialogue with him in order to be reconciled; if that doesn’t work, we should ask a third person to “mediate” the matter; and if even that is not enough, then we should seek forgiveness in the community. This “formula” has much the same spirit as the methods that are used today in the negotiation of conflicts of all sorts.
The path that Jesus proposes is so clear, so effective and so sensible that it is difficult to understand how it got changed into a “sacrament” which seems to be aimed primarily at empowering some “sacred” person who “pardons”. In the course of church history sacramental “confession” has spawned unsavory practices which clearly violate the respect and the dignity that should prevail in all human relations.