I read once — but cannot remember where — a children’s story of a king who had an infestation of mice in his palace. He went to his counselors who advised him to hire some cats. Soon the cats cleared the palace of the mice but the cats multiplied. He returned complaining about his infestation of cats. So his wise men counseled him to get some dogs. Well the dogs soon supplanted the cats, sleeping upon the king’s bed and being a general nuisance—howling at night and barking at his guests. So returning again to his counselors to get rid of the dogs they all agreed that lions would scatter the dogs—which of course they did. But before long the lions were lounging on the beds and couches and eating his store of fine meats. “What am I to do now?” he quizzed his wise men? They said, “Get some elephants!” Well the elephants drove out the lions but then they played havoc with his Great Room and hallways, leaving unseemly droppings and crushing furniture. “Now what?” he asked his advisers. “Bring in some mice” said the wise men, “they will scare the elephants away!” Far too often we try to deal with our problems with solutions that only lead to other problems and we end up back with the mice because we never bothered to ask the question, “Why are the mice in the palace in the first place?”Read the rest at Bishop Lawrence's blog.
Ash Wednesday is a day set aside by the church to ask the question and deal with the problem of the mice in the palace—or rather, I should say, the problem of sin— sin in the heart. Sin, in Christian teaching, is not primarily what we call wrong doings. These are sins. Sin in the singular refers to the deeper problem of our wrongness—or “bentness”—which is all wrapped up with our wrong relationship with God, which is at the heart of our sins. How we deal with this problem of our sin—which leads to the sins we do, both sins of commission and those things which we don’t do that we ought to do, sins of omission—is really the heart of the matter.