Making Restitution

Rev. Phyllis Kersten

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the Israelites: When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed. The person shall make full restitution for the wrong, adding one-fifth to it, and giving it to the one who was wronged.””

Numbers 5:5-7

One of my favorite authors is Louise Penny. Her regular cast of characters includes the colorful residents of the tiny Canadian village Three Pines – like the poet who carries a duck named Rosa in her arms wherever she goes. But her main character is Quebec police inspector Armand Gamache.

Gamache shares “four statements” with new recruits that can help them become “great officers and even better men and women.” (A Better Man, p. 14)

The statements? “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help.”

It occurs to me that at least three of these statements – maybe all four – are key to confession: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I need help [from you, God.]” And maybe also, “I don’t know [how to do better, be better, on my own, without you.]”

But today’s text from Numbers talks about more than confession; it talks about “full restitution” needing to be made to the ones wronged. A national conversation has begun in our country about the wrongs done to African Americans – from slavery to Jim Crow laws, to the repeated efforts to deny Blacks the right to vote, to the Southern states rigging rules so that Black World War II veterans weren’t eligible for the education and housing benefits guaranteed by the G.I. Bill, to the sentencing of African Americans to longer prison terms than whites committing the same offences.

How can we Christians participate in this national conversation about making “restitution” today?

Prayer: Lord, teach us to confess our sins and make restitution to those wronged. Amen

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