I think the readings from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy the last couple of days have been so wonderfully challenging. Today, in our first reading, he admits his sinfulness, relying on God to save him: he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.” This, as anyone who has struggled with addiction will tell you, is a very important first step. Until we admit to what is dogging us, we will never be able to recover from it.
And sin does dog us, it is an addiction that will drag us down from our relationship with God and convince us that we are unworthy of salvation. But, thank God, we couldn’t be more wrong. We, like St. Paul, merely have to admit that we cannot break free of it all on our own, and trust in God’s mercy. St. Paul says he is the foremost of sinners. Well, so am I. And I hope you’re ready to say that you are too. Because there is not other way to be saved.
If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, how can we ever find salvation? Well this is the question of our time, I think. So many of us feel uncomfortable admitting sin or confronting it. But if we are not sinners, then we don’t need a Savior. That might explain the empty places in our church pews, but are we really ready to take that risk? Are we really ready to think that our eternal life is something we can take care of on our own? I know I’m not ready to go there. The consequences for being wrong about that are just too horrifying.
Now I’m not saying we are all mass murderers or something horrible like that. But we all have those times when we’ve turned away from God in little or small ways, times when we have rejected his Lordship or even his love. And when we’ve done that, we have sinned. There is no other word for it. But the good news, as St. Paul says to us today, is that Christ came to save sinners.
There’s a wonderful little prayer that is deeply rooted in the Eastern churches that helps combat this attitude that sin does not affect us. It’s called the Jesus Prayer, and it’s meant to be prayed contemplatively, almost as a mantra. I find it great for calming me down in anxious moments, and focusing myself when I am scattered. It takes about two minutes to learn it and you’ll remember it the rest of your life. So here it is, the Church’s ancient prayer for sinners, the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.”