"Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back." [Nu 12:15].
Whether we want to accept this truth or not, sin, however private, affects the entire Church community.
The Holy Bible is replete with examples of how individual sin adversely affects entire households, communities, and nations. For the sake of time and space, I will only highlight several.
Miriam, the sister of Moses, was a prophetess. As such, she was honored by God and held a preeminent position within the Israelite community. One day, however, Miriam let down her guard and allowed her ‘flesh’ to give way to judgment and criticism of Moses. The Lord heard, was displeased, and immediately executed His punishment. After rebuking Miriam for her irreverence in speaking against Moses, the Lord struck her with leprosy. For seven days, Miriam was to be placed outside the Israelite camp, since she was now considered ‘unclean.’ After seven days, the Lord healed her, and she was allowed to return to the camp. The Bible makes it very clear that the people did not move on in their journey to the Promised Land until Miriam was brought back. One woman’s unbridled tongue was used by the evil one to hinder an entire nation from moving forward in their journey to the Promised Land.
Later on, when the Israelites invaded the city of Jericho, they were instructed by God to keep away from the silver and gold, as well as the articles of bronze and iron. They were not to plunder the city and keep these things for themselves, for these items were sacred to the Lord and were to go into His treasury. An Israelite man named Achan, however, had other ideas. While the invasion was being carried out, he found a beautiful robe, some silver, and some gold, and decided to keep these things for himself. As a result, military disaster came to Israel in their next battle at Ai. Instead of being victorious, the Lord handed the nation over to defeat and humiliation. When it was discovered that Achan was responsible for God’s displeasure with the people, he was put to death, and the Lord turned from His anger. Military victory came to Israel once more.
Any time we transgress against God’s commands, we disrupt and destroy our individual spiritual growth, but we also hinder the growth and development of the entire Church body as well. Simply put, God’s Spirit will not move in churches that are rife with sin. God operates in and through earthen vessels. If those vessels are closed off to Him because of unrepentant sin, we hinder the movement of His Spirit throughout the Church.
For example, let’s suppose that God has endowed someone in the Church with the spiritual gift of teaching. Let’s also suppose that this individual is led astray into sin. What started out as an occasional perusal through girlie magazines has now evolved into a full-blown addiction to pornography. The individual refuses to repent. He still attempts to teach his CCD class every week, but things just aren’t the same. His lessons are dry and boring; they seem to be missing something. That ‘something’ is God’s anointing - that special touch - which is so vitally necessary if we want the Spirit of God to minister to others through our words. Without that anointing, all we have are words - lifeless words. But when God touches those words, they receive power to inspire and motivate others. Because this man refuses to repent of his sin, his words no longer have that power. The students notice that the classes aren’t inspiring and enjoyable anymore. An entire classroom of students has also become hindered in their spiritual progress because of the teacher’s sin. Because of that sin, they are not being taught as effectively as God intended them to be.
The Church teaches that reconciliation is a sacrament that belongs to the faith community. When we repent of our sins and are healed as individuals, the entire Body of Christ is healed. For this reason, reconciliation is often celebrated in the form of a communal penance service so that members of the faith can gather together as a community to receive God’s forgiveness and healing. The Church does this because it recognizes that sin, however, private, inevitably ends up hurting the growth and life of the entire community, and not just that of the individual who has sinned. Because sin hurts the community, reconciliation must include the entire Church community, and not just God. We are all one in Christ. Therefore, what we do to ourselves, we have also done to one another.
Parents who have an angry, rebellious teenager living under their roof can fully understand how the peace, harmony, growth, development, and progress of an entire household become tragically hindered because of that one child’s sinful, self-centered behavior. We apply this knowledge and awareness to our individual households, but not to the household of Christ.
If we belong to one another in Christ, then we must understand that our actions, however private, will affect one another as well.
When Israel left Egypt and set up camp in the wilderness, the Lord instructed the people as follows: "When you relieve yourselves, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that He will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you." [Dt 23:13-14]. God couldn’t have spoken any clearer. When He sees anything indecent in the camp of His people, He turns away and no longer moves among us. If we want His blessing to be upon our individual lives, as well as our entire Church community, we must be committed to living holy lives before Him. When our churches are cluttered with the ‘excrement’ of sexual sin, pornography, substance abuse, greed, selfishness, materialism, and love of pleasure more than love of God, we cannot expect the Lord to move among us. And when God can no longer move among us, we become hindered in our spiritual growth, progress, and development as an entire Church community. When the Church becomes hindered, her light does not shine as brightly. And if that light does not shine, those in the world who are lost and in darkness remain in that state because there is no light to lead them and guide them otherwise. Without a doubt, sin, however private, affects others, even the entire world.
Before we act, we need to ask ourselves how others will be affected by that action. We need to think about the consequences. Satan usually dangles before our eyes the pleasure of the moment, but he never shows us the consequences. If he did, who among us would go through with our sinful desires? But we must understand that there are always consequences any time we transgress against God’s holy laws - laws which were given for our protection and welfare.
If we are in sin, let us be reconciled to God and to one another through confession and repentance. If we desire to avoid sin, let us daily examine our lives under the glaring light of God’s written Word, for that Word will surely reveal to us those areas in our lives which need to be changed. The more we take the time to meditate on God’s Word, the more we will be changed by that Word, because God’s Word will not allow us to remain as we are. This being the case, is it any wonder that Satan tries so furiously to throw every distraction imaginable into our lives to keep us from studying that Word?
I need your holy life, and you need mine. I need your devotion to God, and you need mine. If a hundred people come together every week in order to celebrate the Eucharist, yet 50 of them are in a state of unrepentant sin, as a Church community, we have become like a chain link fence filled with links that are rusted and eaten through. The fence as a whole has no strength. It cannot be used effectively for the purpose for which it was intended. Because of the links that have been eaten away by the rust, any enemy can now come along and kick a hole through those weak links and invade the camp as a whole. Thus, trouble comes to all because of the few.
Sin, however private, affects others around us. We see this principle carried out in families, businesses, communities, and nations, but when it comes to the Church of Jesus Christ, we quickly forget.
May God give us the grace to remember this sobering truth the next time we decide to act in our individual lives, for private sin is a very public affair. It always has been...
...and always will.
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