The story is told of a woman in medieval times who was known as the Town Gossip. When she had been sufficiently ostracized by the rest of the town, she felt enough conviction to go to her priest for confession. With a genuinely repentive spirit, she tearfully acknowledged the harm she had caused and vowed to change her ways.
Her priest listened carefully to her confession then required of her for penance, that she make a trip to the town market and purchase a chicken and bring the fowl back to him. She was instructed, as she made her way back from the market, to pluck its feathers as if to prepare the bird for roasting.
She returned to the priest, naked bird in hand, with the expectation that she had completed her penance, and with the thought that she would be absolved from her sin. Upon receiving the chicken, the priest said to her, “Now to satisfy the remainder of your penance, go back and gather all of the feathers you plucked.”
Formal confession is not something to which many of us in the Free Church Tradition ascribe, despite the scriptural admonition to “confess your sins one to another.” (James 5:16) Penance seems to be a discipline that is even further removed from our practice. That’s probably because most make the mistake of seeing it as a way of earning forgiveness. More correctly, penance should be understood as an opportunity to pause, and consider the seriousness of our sin. In this regard, it is purposeful.
The priest in this story used the occasion of penance to help this repentive soul consider how gossip – once spoken – is virtually impossible to retrieve. The lesson here is that we should refrain from spreading gossip . . . or perhaps in this woman’s case, buy a smaller bird.
© 2017 Roger E. Daniels