Monday, August 28, 2006

An Act of Penance

The Sunday Argus reported that Adrian Vlok, the former minister of police during the days of Apartheid, visited Frank Chikane and asked his forgiveness for the past. He then took some water and washed Chikane’s feet as an act of penance.

What I found intriguing is that the newspaper chose to describe this as a “bizarre act of penance”. Which part was bizarre: washing feet, or saying sorry? I suspect that what this reporter found strange was the idea of saying sorry when there was no incentive to do so. It is too late for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and too late to avoid prosecution is the State chooses to do so. I suspect that the TRC has conditioned us to the idea that confession is rewarded. I suspect that we have also become used to the idea that confession is a prerequisite for forgiveness.

I came across the following quote by Robert Farrar Capon in the blogspot of Dave Lynch ( that makes sense of this for me:

In respect to the parable of the Prodigal Son...
The fascinating thing also is that when the father embraces the boy who has come home from wasting his life, the boy never gets his confession out of his mouth until after the kiss, until after the embrace. What this says to you and me who have to live with the business of trying to confess our sins is that confession is not a pre-condition of forgiveness. It’s something that you do after you know you have been forgiven. Confession is not something you do in order to get forgiveness. It’s something you do in order to celebrate the forgiveness you got for nothing. Nobody can earn forgiveness. The Prodigal knows he's a dead son. He can't come home as a son, and yet in his father's arms he rises from the dead and then he is able to come to his father's side.

Peter Woods would say that this is a perfect example of the unconditional love of God. Perhaps we should be learning more about forgiveness before confession!

1 comment:

Murray & Gina UK said...

That quote is awesome.
I've never thought of the Prodigal's return as an analogy of resurection. (damn I think I spelt that one wrong... oops)
So then all forgivenesses are acts of restoring what was once dead back to life.
Relationships are restored from death, people are made alive again.

Wow, thats pretty powerful.