Now I Know How John the Baptist Felt

The ringing telephone taunted me until I finally turned and picked up the receiver. “This is Randall O’Brien.”

“Dr. O’Brien, this is Harold. I’m wondering if there might be a time I could meet with you this week. It’s very important.”

“Sure, Harold. I’d be happy to visit with you. How about Friday? 3:00 p.m.? I have that time open. How does that sound?”

“Friday at 3 would be fine, Dr. O’Brien. Thank you very much. I’ll see you then. This is very important.”

My curiosity grew as Friday approached, then arrived. “Hello, Harold,” I greeted my octogenarian guest. C’mon in. Please have a seat. Can I get you a cold drink?”

“No, I’m fine, thank you. Thank you very much for seeing me, Dr. O’Brien. This matter has really been bothering me. I just had to come talk to you.”

“Well, I’m glad you did, Harold. Please. Tell me. How can I help?”

“Dr. O’Brien, I did a terrible thing. I’ve never done anything like this before or since. But I just had to come tell you what I did.”

“Sure. I’m glad you came, Harold. Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“Dr. O’Brien, I cheated on a test at Baylor in 1949. It wasn’t the final exam, but I cheated just the same. My conscience is killing me!”

“Harold, how old are you?”

“I’m eighty-one.”

“You’re eighty-one. This is 2007. You cheated on an exam in 1949, nearly sixty years ago, and your conscience is killing you?”

“It sure is. I’ve never confessed my sin, Dr. O’Brien. Never told anyone about it until now.”

“My goodness.”

“You see, I’ve been praying for revival to come to my church. Yet here I sit with this unconfessed sin in my life. God has really been speaking to me about my own sin. I felt I had to come to you as the Executive Vice President and Provost of Baylor and turn myself in to you.”

“Harold, are you familiar with that verse in the Bible which declares, ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’?”

“I sure am, Dr. O’Brien. That’s 1 John, chapter 1, verses 8 and 9.”

“Well, it seems to me that Scripture pretty much settles it for us.”

“But what about Baylor?”

“Harold, as Executive Vice President and Provost of Baylor University, by the power and authority vested in me by the President and the Board of Regents, I do hereby pardon you for your wrongdoing in 1949. God has forgiven you; Baylor has pardoned you. Go now, and with the rest of us sinners, celebrate God’s marvelous grace.”

“Whew!” My visitor’s chest relaxed as he exhaled his guilt and then inhaled God’s grace. Sighing joyfully, smiling happily, he whispered, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! May we pray?”

As we bowed our heads, Harold prayed like an angel. A paradox pierced my peace. One such as I receiving the confession of one such as he? Remember the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist? Now I know how John felt.

This post originally appeared in Would Moses Throw a Chair?: Stories from the Journey by James Randall O’Brien.

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