In this particular passage the word “sin” is translated from the Hebrew word “chãtä” or “chëta” which means ‘missing the mark.’ Moses is telling the Israelites that God is actively putting upon them a fear to help prevent them from straying away from the plan He, the Sovereign Creator, has for them. The sinning from which God is saving the people is a different sin than found in other verses throughout Scripture. Although a higher incidence of the word chãtä appears in the Old Testament than words like rãshã’ (wicked, guilty), ‘ãwön (iniquity), ‘ämãl (evil, trouble), or ‘ãshãm (trespass), they are all used to convey God’s great understanding of the myriad ways we humans transgress.
Chãtä, this missing of the mark, is what happens when we lose sight of our center point. There isn’t one among us who is innocent of this specific charge. That is why chãtä is the most used reference to transgressions in the Old Testament. It is something all of humankind falls prey to. We are not all murderers nor thieves nor even liars but we all tend to miss the mark in the living of our daily lives. This is most certainly why Christ suggested that the first person to cast a stone should be the one without sin; He knew that we all miss the mark. Our intentions might be both magnanimous and noble as we set out each day; but most definitely, as the day wears on our ability to consistently hit the mark with our words and deeds becomes quite a task.
In God’s great mercy and grace we were given Christ, whose blood covers us when we lose our center point of living fully and completely for God; Christ is our daily salvation from “chãtä.”
John the Baptist proclaimed the need for repentance, baptism, and forgiveness of sin—a call seemingly more necessary than ever before. Ours is a world of new age thinkers who address the universe with an capital “U” and believe that man is neither sinner nor in need of redemption. From talk show platforms to bookstore shelves we are inundated with messages of our own power and might. We are told that if we concentrate long and hard enough there are no obstacles we cannot overcome. Pursuing our own personal agenda is not sinful nor even detrimental. We are told, and often choose to be convinced, that it is our “right” to attain great material successes and escape from crosses to bear. But how dangerously far off the mark is this message taking us?
Sin, itself, holds severe consequences. It separates us from our Creator and leads us to live lives filled with anxiety and emptiness. Separated from the Father, we are victims of despair and loneliness. These consequences, though, are overshadowed by the eternal consequence of death. We cannot be reconciled through Christ’s shedding of blood unless the reality of our daily sins is first acknowledged.
Just as John the Baptist called his fellow man to see the ways in which they fell short, we, too, are called to that same realization. It requires of us the ability to reflect on our daily words and actions in the light of how we have missed the mark. Does this mean that we want to live lives filled with self-flagellation and despair? No, it does not. Just as John’s message was one of hope to be found after repentance, so, too, should be our own understanding. But to arrive at that destination requires an honest look within ourselves.
Like John the Baptist, we are meant to proclaim to the world that beyond the sin of missing the mark is the gift of redemption. That is the real message. That is the counter-culture message that we are called to embrace and share: Yes, we are sinners! Yes, we miss the mark in our daily living! Yes, our redemption is in Christ!