There's an old Jewish tale about a rabbi who went on a journey with his servant Jacob. When they came to a roadside inn, the rabbi went inside to rest, leaving Jacob to care for the rabbi's cart and feed his horse. Soon a horse trader came by and plied poor Jacob with strong drinks. Before long, the horse trader had persuaded poor Jacob to sell the rabbi's horse for a few coins.

The next morning, Jacob awakened to the enormity of his mistake, and was deeply troubled. What would he tell the rabbi? Then an idea came to mind. He quickly stood in front of the cart, placed the harness over himself and began to munch on the hay. The rabbi appeared and stared in wonder, "What's going on here? Where's my horse?" "The horse?" replied Jacob. "I am the horse!" "Are you insane," shouted the rabbi. "Please don't be angry," replied the servant. "Years ago, a great misfortune befell me. I was a young man then, wild and foolish, and I sinned gravely with a woman. For punishment, I was turned into a horse, and for the last 20 years you have been my master. Now it seems my punishment is over, I'm a man again! Praise God!"

When the rabbi heard Jacob's story, he too praised God. But he still had a problem: without the horse he could not continue his journey. So he walked to the marketplace to purchase one. There, at the horse trader's barn, he saw his old horse calmly munching hay. Shocked by the sight, the rabbi slowly walked up to the horse and whispered in the horse's ear, "For goodness sake, Jacob, again, and so soon?!"

Again! So soon! How often have we had to say that to ourselves! We can scarcely count the times! We seem to have a sad but familiar pattern of repeating the same sins. As the years go by, we are likely to give up the fight and declare that we are beyond saving, beyond God's loving heart and helping hand. Nothing could be further from the truth! We have to see our sinfulness, our woundedness, as God sees it. How does God see it? God looks at us and sees much loved children having the usual troubles of growing up. So God says, "I will help if you let me, but be patient with yourself because growing up takes a lot time."

One of the most comforting things Jesus ever said in the Scriptures was his response to critics who claimed that he spent too much time with sinners. He said, "Healthy people don't need healing. Sinners do." Jesus was speaking of us. He is telling us that he is closest to us when we are weak, vulnerable and most in need of compassion and forgiveness.

When the battle line is sharply drawn between our sinfulness on one side, with God's unconditional love and Jesus' compassion on the other side, the battle is already won, for God's love trumps everything else!

So with bowed heads, we pray: Gracious God, we admit that we are a sinful people in need of your healing graces. But we also recognize that your love for us is beyond what we can ever imagine. So we place ourselves in your hands, in your tender and merciful care, as we make this Lenten journey alongside Jesus Our Brother. Amen!

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