Isn't Thirteen Kind of a Big Number?
How many times will God forgive Abraham pimping out his wife? More than twice? Why does God forgive a murderer and make Moses the leader of his people? How many Philistines must Samson annihilate before God says, "Enough!" Will God forgive Abraham and Moses seven times or seven times seventy-seven times? How much Philistine blood must God wipe off Samson's ledger? And what about the disciples? Can God forgive friends who abandoned Him in His hour of greatest need?
When we read the Bible, it's easy to say, "Yes, it's good that God pardons the lawless, immoral, despicable sin of His people." But, in daily practice it's not so simple. Or is it?
When a drunk sits before her pastor and confesses she's fallen off the wagon for the thirteenth time, does the pastor forgive her in Jesus' Name? Isn't thirteen kind of a big number?
How many times will she wake up in another man's bed? How many times will she search for her car and drive straightaway to the church to confess before her pastor says, "Enough! You don't get it. You can't just keep coming in here confessing the same sin again and again."
How many times does she confess before her pastor says, "You're obviously not contrite. You cry each time you confess, yes. You grit your teeth and say you want to sober up, but after thirteen of these conversations, I'm convinced you're not serious. No... this is too much. Not even God has this kind of patience and mercy."
But, let's go back to safe ground. Let's go back to the Bible. A tax collector goes into the temple on a Sabbath. His sin is great. He stands against the back wall. He's ashamed, so ashamed he won't even look up but instead beats his chest and cries, "God be merciful to me, the sinner!"
Jesus says that man went down to his house justified.
Was that the first time he'd done that, or the thirteenth?
What was his great sin? Did he pimp out his wife? Maybe he accidentally murdered a man while trying to extort more money from him. Maybe he threw extravagant parties, drunken orgies that went on for days until all the revelers passed out. Whatever it was, Jesus says his sin was forgiven.
Was it the thirteenth time he'd gone into the temple like that? Maybe it was the seventy-seventh time. How many times can a man whose sin is great beat his chest, beg for pardon, and God will say, "Your sin is covered by the blood of Christ. Go in peace, I don't remember your sin"?
As many times as God's Word of Law works contrition in his heart the tax collector is going to hear the Good News that all his sin, great as it is, is removed from him as far as the Eastern horizon is from the Western horizon.
Better yet, all his sin is put on Jesus, the one-time for all-time Lamb sacrificed for the sin of the world. Abraham, Moses, Samson, Jesus' disciples... all of it. Your sin and mine, too. But why?
"He made him to be sin who knew no sin that we may become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21)
Abraham's sin and Moses' sin, Samson, the disciples, the tax collector, your sin and mine now has a name: "Jesus." God made Him to be sin who knew no sin. God "verbed" sin onto Jesus.
Now, when we read about sin in the Bible or listen to a confession of sin, that sin has a place and a time and a name: Jesus nailed to a cross, bleeding, abandoned, and dead on Golgotha.
God doesn't see Abraham the pimp, Moses the murderer, Samson the homicidal maniac, his Son's betrayers, or a drunken adulterous woman. He sees Jesus.
How many times does God forgive? Four hundred and ninety times? No. He forgives Jesus-many times.
St. John says that, "If we confess our sins God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). The word "all" is very important.
St. John exclaims that whether our sins are small or great, few or many, done once or repeated, the blood of Christ can and does cleanse them all—every single one, every single time. AMEN.