In the English translation of the Bible we read the word “sin”. The Hebrew word mostly being translated is חָטָא (chata). The Greek word mostly being translated is ἁμαρτία (hamartia). Both mean “missing the mark”.
In Judges 20:16, there’s a story of 26,000 armed men amongst whom was a group of seven hundred left-handed young men who could sling a stone at a hair and not miss חָטָא (chata).
We miss the mark of our own goals, our own expectations of ourselves. We miss the mark of the expectations of others. We miss the mark of God’s expectations of us.
Our own goals and expectations – I would expect we are pretty clear about that. Some expectations that other people have of us we know well. Some of their expectations – we may not even know that someone has certain expectations of us. And when it comes to God’s expectations of us, well… it’s not hard to find quite a bit of disagreement about exactly what those expectations are.
Some would say that highlighting sin as merely “missing the mark” can make sin sound like just a skill deficiency. Hardly worth God’s strong interest in sin. Certainly not sufficient to relate to Christ’s incarnation, life, suffering, and death…
I tend to flinch whenever someone uses the words “merely”, “just”, “only” [as, for example, in: "merely a story", "just a metaphor", "only a film"].
There’s more IMO to the mark than my goal, your goal for me, God’s goal…
IMO: the goal is God. Union with God is the goal. And it is that mark that we miss. Through weakness and skill deficiency, sure. But also on purpose.
“Shrove” relates to the English word “shriven” – to be forgiven. Sunday’s Gospel reading had that moment of realisation, of insight: I am a sinful person.
There are spiritualities where one can only be forgiven for a particular sin once. In such a spirituality you can miss the mark – once. After that – be afraid, be very afraid. Because, in such a spirituality, there is no third chance. Christian spirituality differs from this. Christian spirituality declares forgiveness is always available to us. Christ’s response is: Do not be afraid.
A good collect for Shrove Tuesday:
Let us pray (in silence) [that we may live as forgiven people]
God of infinite mercy,
grant that we who know your compassion
may rejoice in your forgiveness
and gladly forgive others
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour
who is alive with with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.