I sometimes invite an adult class to close their eyes as I read aloud the story from Mark 2 of the paralyzed man whose four friends carry him to Jesus. I ask the class to imagine themselves in the story as the paralyzed man.

"Focus on some spot within you," I suggest, "some paralysis before which you are helpless. Imagine your friends and family deeply concerned. They have heard about this man Jesus, a healer. Would you let them take you to see him? In spite of your failures, your desperate discouragement, you let their insistence sway you and you agree to their plan. They take you to him and explain the problem."

After some moments of silence, I invite the class to open their eyes and share something from their imaginary experience. What is it like, I ask, to face Jesus and be offered healing and forgiveness?

Responses vary, but eventually someone always asks, "If this is a healing story, why does Jesus bring up forgiveness of sins?" Someone else will say, "I wondered that, too. I have trouble with the word sin. I feel guilty just hearing it, but I also try really hard to lead a good Christian life." Yet another will comment, "Some of my friends say that they resent the Christian idea of sin. They try to lead a good life, and they don't want to come to church to be told they're bad."

Reading the Gospels makes us aware of Jesus' insistent forgiveness and makes us come face to face with the most unpopular word in the Christian lexicon: sin.

Sin is a state of being alienated from God, from others, and from our true selves. Out of our sense of alienation, we behave in alienating ways. We are painfully—usually secretively and shamefully—aware of our alienation, our ensuing failings, and their repetition. It is an enormous ...

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