Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, Hosea 5:8-6:6, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, Matthew 14:1-12

Guilt makes us behave in strange ways. Take Herod, for example: as Jesus and his ministry became more prominent, Herod became convinced Jesus was really John the Baptist resurrected with supernatural powers. Earlier Herod had executed John (who had embarrassed the family by publicly criticizing a marriage scandal), but he didn’t really want to. He actually liked listening to John preach, but his wife (whom he’d taken from his brother) and her daughter forced his hand. Guilt and embarrassment about his marriage forced Herod into a rash decision to execute John, and the guilt of the execution made him paranoid about the world. Like many a guilty party, he was looking over his shoulder waiting for the shadow of his misdeeds to overtake him.

Guilt urges us to overcompensate, sometimes by becoming falsely generous and sometimes by attempting to turn the tables and project our wrongdoings onto the people who remind us of it. Politicians and preachers who rail about conservative family values and then get caught doing the very things they condemned aren’t just hypocritical, they are suffering the destructive side effects of guilt. Very often spouses who cheat handle their guilt by buying their partners extravagant gifts, making accusations against them to deflect attention from their own wrongdoing, or avoiding them. It’s the rare individual whose behavior remains unaffected by feelings of guilt, and those effects are corrosive and unhealthy.

Fortunately Christians know a healthy alternative to guilt: repentance. Repentance is not the same as penance (good deeds to make up for the bad) or mere remorse; when we repent, we turn in a different – and better! – spiritual direction. We may not be able to avoid the consequences of our past actions, but we no longer repeat or dwell in them. Where guilt keeps us chained to shame, repentance severs those bonds and frees us to move on. Our past, once a minefield of failings waiting to detonate in our present, no longer threatens our peace of mind.

John the Baptist called the world to repentance. We answer that call by accepting the grace God offers through Christ.

Comfort: If you suffer from guilt, there’s a better way.

Challenge: Take an inventory of your guilt. How could you trade it for repentance?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for your mercies. May the compass of my heart always seek your true North. Amen.

Discussion: Do you think it’s possible to forgive yourself for something you think you might do again?

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