We are now into the second week of Lent and so far I’ve learnt some
amazing things. So let me rewind back to Ash Wednesday. On the Tuesday
before Ash Wednesday I was on my way to meet with one of my
accountability partners. The phone rang and it was one of the
librarians at the university I’m studying at. "Did you know that your
books are almost over a month overdue", she said. I was in total shock.
I seriously thought that they were due in March and not in February.
The reason for this is residue from our three years in America. In the
States one reads the date like this month/day/year. In South Africa it
is day/month/year. When I read the date on my books it was 3/2/2007.
This incident started me on a specific journey. During that week I
prayed through Psalm 19 every day. One part was my definite focus:
"How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse
me from these hidden faults. Keep me from deliberate sins! Don’t let
them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great
I was pondering on my hidden and deliberate sins and asking God to show me.
Lent has traditionally led the church on a pathway of preparation and
cleansing leading to the ultimate purge by the death of Jesus. Early on Wednesday morning a few in our
community met for the administering of the ashes. And so with a huge cross on
my head I went to one of the biggest universities in South Africa.
On my way to Pretoria I prayed through Psalm 19 again, the prayer
against deliberate and hidden sins. As I neared the university I was
confronted head-on by one of my deliberate sins. You see parking is a
scarcity at the university and on my previous visits I told the guard
at the gate that I had an appointment at the theology department. This
statement has always been a ‘white lie’. Sin, in other words (I’m very
tempted to rationalize my action now but I’ll stand strong and call it what it was). Sin. So on this particular
Wednesday, convicted as I was I decided to park outside the university
like most of the other students.
It took me at least twenty minutes to find a space and it was a ten
minute walk from the gate. As I walked to the campus I felt like I did
the right thing.
Bearing the cross of Christ becomes painfully practical on Ash
Wednesday. It always amazes me to see the different reactions people
have when they see the freak with the cross. Some people looks at you
with pity, others with disdain and there’s always the individual who
mistakes the cross for a smudge that they want to relieve you of.
I walked to the library to go and do penance. In the spirit of Ash
Wednesday I expressed my heartfelt regret and told the man attending to
my case that I made a mistake and that I’m sorry. He took the books,
gave me the receipt for my R56 fine and after I payed he asked me about
the cross. Even during this interaction I found how hard it is for me
to say that I’m guilty. Period. It seems like rationalizing my sins
has become an ingrained habit. I met with one of my friends who’s also
a family member at Kleipot Gemeente and after a great conversation
headed back to my car.
Have you noticed how many times we want to be rewarded for doing the right thing? When we do right we feel like we should almost always be applauded or be given some kind of a prize. We feel like obedience should lead to some kind of blessing or renumeration. Let me give you an example. When you’ve confessed and turned away from your previous lying to the guard, searched for a parking spot for twenty minutes and confessed to the librarian that you sinned then one expects some kind of a divine smile. With all of these things in my mind I strolled to my car and to my utter horror I saw that a kind police officer left a ticket on my car and all the other vehicles parked in the street.
The ticket said, ‘Parked a vehicle where it constituted a danger or obstruction, NRTA 93/96." The fine was for R500.
So this is what you get when you do the right thing! There were no signs indicating that it’s illegal to park in the street. My car was neatly parked on the sideway and other vehicles could pass it easy, so what was the problem? Then it struck me, "How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse
me from these hidden faults." There must be hundreds of faults that I make everyday, that I’m guilty of. Lent reminds me of this fact and prepares my heart to re-evaluate the wonder of Christ paying all my fines.
It also reminds me how hard it is to admit that I’m a sinner. When I wrote the traffic department a letter to contest the fine I realized how deep rationalization ingrained itself into the human psyche. May God deliver me and us from our insistence on being innocent and when we finally admit that we’re wrong may he cleanse us! Enjoy your lent journey.