Sometimes, telling only half the truth ends up as a lie. There’s a reason that witnesses in court are sworn to tell the whole truth. When I was a kid, our driveway had a steep hill, and my parents told my sister and I that we were never to ride our bikes down the hill. Which, of course, I did. And I fell. So when my parents asked me how I got hurt, I didn’t want to lie, but I didn’t want to tell them that I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to. So I simply told them, “I was riding my bike and I fell.” Which was true. But was also leaving out something essential.
We are all called to preach the Gospel. But if we leave out something essential, our proclamation of the Gospel can actually be false. Today’s readings show us two essential truths that must be part of proclaiming the Gospel. To leave out either of these two truths turns the Gospel into what would essentially be a lie. The first essential truth is the reality of sin. St. Peter tells the crowd in the first reading, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death.” In proclaiming the Gospel to the crowd, he tells them of their own sinfulness. If we are going to be Christians, we have to acknowledge the reality of sin. And not just sin in the general sense, but in the personal sense. All of us are sinners.
Unfortunately, very often we try to deny that. We tell ourselves that we’re not really sinners, that we’re basically good people, that our sins aren’t really that bad. Guess what, you’re a sinner. I’m a sinner. And none of our good deeds will ever make up for our sins. If it were possible for us to be good enough to save ourselves, if our good deeds could cancel out our sins, then we wouldn’t need a savior, and Jesus’s whole work would be in vain. But we can’t save ourselves. We are sinners in desperate need of a savior. That is the first essential truth of the Gospel. If we leave out the reality of sin, what we proclaim is not the Gospel, but a lie that says we can save ourselves.
Now, if we stop there, that’s pretty depressing. If the Gospel is only a proclamation of our sinfulness, then it would hardly qualify as good news. But thankfully there is more to the Gospel. Yes, we have to acknowledge the reality of sin. But we also have to acknowledge the reality of God’s abundant mercy. All three of our readings today speak of God’s mercy. In the Gospel, Christ tells the disciples “that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” In our first reading, St. Peter does just that when he tells the crowd “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” And in the second reading, St. John writes, “if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” The Gospel tells us that we are sinners and that we cannot save ourselves, but it also tells us that there is one who can save us: Jesus Christ. In Him is the forgiveness of all our sins. He is our peace and our reconciliation. In Him all of our sins are forgiven. There is no sin that is too great for God’s mercy.
It is critical that we always remember that both sin and mercy are essential parts of the Gospel message. As I said before, sometimes we can forget about sin being an essential part of the Gospel message. We deny our sinfulness or the sinfulness of others. When we do that, Jesus stops being our Savior. He becomes just a nice teacher, and we become our own saviors, which is contrary to the message of Christianity. But we can also forget about mercy. Unfortunately, too many Christians in their proclamation of the Gospel focus almost exclusively on the reality of sin and forget about mercy. As we see in the readings today, none of them talk about sin without also talking about mercy. It is important for us to do the same. We need to make sure as followers of Christ that we never tell people about sin without also telling people about the forgiveness of sins that comes from Christ. As disciples, we are not called to condemn people for their sinfulness but to bring them the good news of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
As followers of Christ, we are called to preach the Gospel but we must preach the fullness of the Gospel. We can neither neglect to tell people about the reality of sin, nor can we neglect to tell them about God’s mercy which covers all of our sins. As Christ appears to the disciples in the Gospel today, he greets them with “Peace be with you.” That peace comes from knowing the Gospel. Let us be instruments of that peace by proclaiming the fullness of the Gospel to all people.