Now let’s look at this story through a Catholic perspective…
We are all born into a fallen race outside of a relationship with God. God has started a family, a tribe, and he wants us all to be part of it. We know that there is nothing we can do to be worthy of this gift but God wishes to adopt us all as his children regardless. He has provided us a path for that adoption.
First we begin with a ritual bath called a baptism. This washes away the stain of original sin and restores us to a pure state. The baptized are dressed in a white garment to signify the new child in God they have now become. Baptism cleanses our soul and leaves an indelible mark upon it, consecrating or setting us aside for the Lord.
We then set out on a path through the deep, dark jungle called life. Because we have a fallen nature and an attraction to sin it is not long before we fall into it. Sin is a word that originally means “to miss the mark” and it is any action that is displeasing to God and separates us from him. The price of sin is death and there is nothing we can do to get ourselves out of it. We need a savior.
We know that we are saved by grace through faith. Grace is a word that means favor and faith is a word that means trust. We are saved by a special and undeserving favor through our trust. The tribal chief is Jesus Christ, who died once for all sins. When Jesus extends his hand down to you that is grace. When you extend yours up to him that is faith. When he pulls you out of the pit of your sins you are saved.
But being saved is not enough. Every action has a consequence and the consequence of sin is death. With Jesus’ death and resurrection he conquered death but there is still a price to be paid for our sins. To redeem means to “buy back”. When Jesus spilled out his innocent, divine blood for us he redeemed our souls. He paid the price of all of the sins for the entire world for all of eternity. Jesus is the tribal chief who poured out his canteen on us to wash away the grime and restore our robe to its brilliant white. He is our savior and our redeemer.
Most non-Catholic Christians believe that once they have been saved they are always saved and that there is nothing that can happen in heaven or on earth to change that from happening. They very well could be correct but for that to happen they would have to cease their journey through life. We know that as we travel through life we are going to fall into sin over and over again. Not all sins carry the same weight. Murdering an innocent person is much more serious than stealing a pencil from your place of employment. Both are sins but one has much graver consequences than the other.
In the story there were pits of quicksand that were so deep you could not get out of them on your own. There were also pits where you could touch the bottom and manage to get out. Both pits left you wet, dirty and heavier. The pits with no bottom represent mortal sin, sin that separates man from God that will result in eternal damnation if not forgiven. The pits with bottoms represent venial sin, sins that do not result in a complete separation from God and do not carry eternal damnation if left unrepented. You are left with a partial loss of grace from God as long as you have unrepented venial sins.
Every time we commit a venial sin our soul is weighted down. If left unforgiven we can become so heavy with our sins that we can no longer function and have the joy filled, productive lives we are meant to have. Jesus did die once and paid the price of every sin but that does not mean we are automatically already forgiven for either mortal or venial sins. The “once saved” crowd believes that they are and that they do not need to ask forgiveness for anything they do after they extend their hands in faith that first time. Scripture does not support this idea.
On the night before he was to be put to death Jesus instituted the priesthood and he gave his trusted twelve disciples the authority to forgive sins. If all sins for all times were to be redeemed by his death and resurrection there would have been no reason to do this. All sins from the next day forward would have been automatically forgiven. No need for the disciples to have this authority. Jesus knew that as we continue through life we would need to be forgiven over and over again for our weakness.
The witch doctor in the story represents the Catholic priest. Through an unbroken line of succession going all the way back to Jesus himself the Catholic priest has been given the authority to forgive sins. The witch doctor carried the canteen belonging to the tribal chief and used this canteen to wash away the buildup of muck and grime from the many times of falling in the pits of quicksand. It is only through Jesus direct authority can a priest do this and not through his own folly. The priest connects heaven and earth and acts as a conduit for the healing grace of Jesus to flow to us. This is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
We are never truly alone on this journey through life. The entire heavenly kingdom travels the path with us ready to lend assistance to us when needed. Jesus and his mother Mary are the only two humans who have ever made it through life without falling into sin. Both had extraordinary grace. We can never be like them in that regard but we can use them as the example of how we are called to live. We will be shown mercy in the way that we show mercy and we will be forgiven in the way that we forgive. Hatred is a poison that kills the soul. Forgiveness is the antidote.