- Bible Reading: Luke 13:1-9, 31-35
- Free Resource: Bringing It Home (Cross+Gen Worship – NL)
- Lenten Theme (February 17—April 2): Journey to the Cross
- The Point: Suffering is not always caused by our sin, but everyone should repent.
Heading to Jerusalem
In the reading on Ash Wednesday (Luke 9:51-62), we heard that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). That is the context of all the lectionary readings from now through Palm Sunday and continuing to the cross on Good Friday. Last week, we heard of a lawyer, a merciful Samaritan, and of a conflict between two of Jesus’ disciples (Martha and Mary). Now it seems that we really get into some Lenten themes: suffering and repentance.
So, it is on his journey to Jerusalem that some people told Jesus about a horrifying event: The Roman governor of the region had (ordered) the murder of multiple Galileans while they were making a sacrifice in the temple. To add an extra layer of extreme sacrilege to the crime, the blood of these murder victims was mixed in with the blood of the sacrifice they had been making. Not only did those who were murdered suffer, but all whom this sacrilege affected.
But Jesus addressed a question that was not recorded by Luke. Did those Galileans bring this about with their own sins? It’s a reasonable question, at least somewhat. The Bible is filled with stories of people suffering under God’s wrath. However, the unqualified answer is, “No.” Or, rather, a “No, but.”
Jesus offers a little bit of a non sequitur, or at least a foreshortening of a logical train of thought. It is almost as his response is, “Their deaths are not from their sin. But, as long as we are on the subject of sin, everyone needs to repent so they don’t die.” Jesus even pulls in another example of grisly death, people caught in a collapsing tower. This warrants the same answer, “No, but repent!”
Metanoia: Change of Mind
The Greek word used for repentance is metanoia. This concept is not the same as feeling guilty or apologizing, though those might accompany repentance. The term means to turn around mentally, to change your mind. When we repent, we stop going down our own path and instead start walking on God’s path. The path that Jesus is taking toward Jerusalem, the cross, and (eventually) the resurrection.
From Here to There
The way I understand this is that metanoia is about more than one action or even one habit. It is about your whole self, your whole life. But it’s all well and good to talk about changing your mind and walking a new path, but what does this mean in real life?
Thoughts and Actions
I am in no way a psychologist, but this holistic view of repentance reminds me of cognitive behavioral therapy. In the model of CBT (as I understand it) psychological problems originate as harmful thought patterns which lead to negative behaviors. The behaviors can become habitual and influence or reinforce the harmful thought patterns. The goal of this therapy is to change one’s mind, not just in coming to a different opinion, but literally. That sounds like metanoia. In CBT, how is this accomplished? By changing our behavior. Not all at once, but by catching yourself in the negative thoughts or behaviors and interrupting them. Change is accomplished one thought, one action at a time.
Sin and Repentance
What does this have to do with repentance? One overly simplistic way to look at sin (the nature, not the individual actions) is as negative thought processes. Our minds are structured in a way that is not God’s way. Therefore, we behave in a way that is not God’s way. Our way of thinking and behaving is ultimately harmful to ourselves and others. Our way is the way of death, while God’s way is the way of life. Just as someone cannot will themselves out of depression, anxiety, or other diseases of the mind, we cannot just will ourselves into God’s way of thinking. Change—repentance—is accomplished one thought, one action at a time. We can call these actions faith practices.
God’s love for us does not depend on our state of mind or the resulting actions. God’s love is unconditional. But God’s love means that God is not content in letting us suffer in our harmful thoughts and behaviors. The Holy Spirit aids us in this journey as we daily work of repentance to change our minds.
This week, we are providing a set of three at-home challenges from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship guide. These can be done by individuals and families.
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
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