During the days when the Preacher and I lived for several months in a medical facility, the toilet in his room developed a nasty case of hiccups. I reported the problem and a staff member called in Norm the plumber. He came cheerfully, pushing a red metal cart heavy with dangling wrenches. It rattled like a kitchen utensil drawer and overflowed with unrecognizable and fascinating handy-manly things.
“Hear you have a problem with the toilet,” he said.
I told him that until the last three days, the toilet had guzzled down whatever landed in there and refilled in seconds flat. And that now we had to hold the flush handle down for what seemed forever.
The trouble, I figured, originated with something I’d done: accidentally flushed an entire piece of paper towel. I’d lived in guilt ever since, dreading the day my sin would find me out. I knew it was just a matter of time before I got busted. But I said nothing.
Norm went in and out of the washroom several times in the next half hour, muttering and clanging. When he finally exited, wiping his hands, I swallowed my pride. “So what was the matter with the thing?”
“Ripped diaphragm and broken stop check.” He gave a long explanation filled with complicated trade terminology of the sort I’ve deliberately ignored for years. Seeing my eyes glaze over he stopped. Pawed the air. “Uh, well…” he shrugged. “Toilet’s broken, is all. It happens.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding since he’d first come in and simultaneously felt my burden of guilt flush down the welcome drain of exoneration. “Whew!” I confessed. “I thought for sure it must have been the (gulp) paper towel I accidentally flushed a few weeks ago.”
He laughed. “Nah, these industrial kind of toilets won’t balk at a single paper towel. But you wouldn’t believe what I do fish out of these things.” He named everything from hypodermic needles to watches and cloth towels and rubber gloves. “They don’t like those one bit.”
But all I heard were two words. “Not guilty.” Sweet words to the soul, whether our guilt for our sins and mistakes is real or imagined.
In this Lenten season, we Christ-followers prepare our hearts to resonate afresh with the message and miracle of Easter. The words ‘not guilty’ beautifully sum up the mission of our Savior. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for mankind’s sin, and the miracle of his resurrection three days later means that when we honestly confess our brokenness and sinfulness, God is willing and able to forgive us.
Any good plumber can fix a toilet,. Only God can repair a soul in a similar state: broken and stuffed with the dredges of guilt. That’s what he does when we call on him for forgiveness. And because of Jesus we can each hear those sweetest of words. “Not guilty.”