February 12, 2019 Apologize!. Say you're sorry! These words, which I associate mainly with my childhood, are making a comeback.
Most of us know these words from our early years. Demands for an apology were commonplace on the playground, in the neighborhood, or at home. I can’t say that I’ve heard them spoken in person decades. And yet, demands for public apologies seemed to me at least to be on the rise these days. When I listen to the news on the television or read the newspapers or get my news via the Internet, again and again, come cries for apologies. One author insists another author owes an apology. Public leaders issue statement about how they’ve been wronged and are waiting for an apology. And with social media multiplying the chances for offense, I wonder if even an hour goes by without someone causing offense, and someone taking offense and demanding a retraction, a confession, an admission of shame for what was wrong. Apologize. Say you’re sorry.
Now, if I am right, and there is an increase in cries for the confession of others, it may be because we have become overly sensitive, too easily aggrieved, eager to be offended. In fact , my sense is that we have become hyper sensitive. And we shouldn’t be so naïve to think the media is innocent here. If scandalous headlines used to be good for business—sex sells was the way it was put—well, conflict sells is the new mantra today. Media outlets accentuate and often inflate the discord in our world. Conflict of any kind keeps people's attention, keeps us reading or tuned in.
Still, apologies are a good thing. They are necessary because they can go a long,long way to restore harmony, especially if they come with restitution and reformation by those who cause offense or harm. A recent study in psychophysiology showed lower heart rates and less tension in the eyes and eyebrows and other muscles when subjects received an apology. The body tells us, what we know morally: apologies are helpful, they are the right thing to do.
The Bible says that the issues of harm and forgiveness, sin and grace, are at the heart of our predicament--and respectively the cause of our lack of peace and the opportunity for a greater peace. Our tradition urges us to make confession a daily part of individual life and a weekly part of our corporate life. Restitution is part of this too. Jesus said before we present our offerings to God, we should go first and make amends with anyone we've offended or wronged. And as for saying sorry in an open and public way, The Gospel of Luke holds out the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a notorious tax collector. Tax collecting is actually, believe it or not, a nice way of describing what he and others did. Tax collectors were extortionists. They collected whatever they could squeeze out people, well beyond what the government asked of them.
We don't have a copy of his rap sheet. But what we do know, is that when the grace of God broke into his life, when Jesus called him by name, and said to him “Salvation has come into your house today” Zacchaeus went public with his apology without being asked. “If I have defrauded anyone, I'll repay them fourfold, and half of my possession I will give to the poor.” It was an apology from the heart. What kind of heart? One that was putting itself under a new and gracious management.