This Week’s Lectionary Gospel Passage: Luke 13: 1-9
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (NRSV)
Hmmm! Maybe we should try the Psalm. They’re usually a little more friendly, not quite as prickly to the touch, right? The truth is, we do not like to be threatened and this sounds very threatening. We’d rather listen to the soothing melodies of assurance and unconditional love and grace. Repentance is just too stressful, just too harsh and unyielding. But, unless you repent…
I think the problem is that we look at repentance as something negative. We envision repentance as some sort of self-denial. We think that we can no longer be who we are but instead we must become some sort of stamped-out “stepford” Christian in order to “measure up” to Jesus Christ. To quote the old, much-overused, and oft-abused slogan “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD), we use Christ as some sort of divine measuring stick of what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is immoral, and, more importantly, what is it that would win us favor and life with God? So, what would Jesus do? Well, I’m convinced that he’d throw that rot out with that batch of bad figs! Because repentance is not negative. It does not mean losing who you are. It means discovering the wonder of who you are meant to be.
The Greek word that is usually translated as “repentance” is metanoia. In Classical Greek, it meant to change one’s mind, one’s heart, one’s soul, one’s life. Penance was not a part of it. It simply meant to follow a different road. I think that IS what Jesus would do. Why is that so difficult for us? Is the road that we’re on so grand? For most of us, probably not. It is just comfortably familiar. But don’t we deserve more than comfortable? We are told of a new life, a new creation, an existence of perfect harmony and shalom. I don’t think that’s necessarily limited to our next life, or heaven, or the other side of the rainbow, or however you envision it. I think it’s down that road. But…unless you repent…unless you change course, let go of the life that you’ve created, and listen to the road that beckons before you, you will remain comfortable and secure and right where you are. And then you will die! But, oh, what you will miss!
The road ahead looks dark now and even a little bleak. The skies are blackening and there’s this awful hammering of metal against wood up ahead. There is shouting and chaos. It IS tempting to pull the covers over our head and just stay in for the day. But just beyond that hill, just ahead, through those rocks and trees, there is a tiny flicker of light. Let us go and see this thing that has happened. Frederick Buechner says, “To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, “I’m sorry,” than to the future and saying, “Wow!” (Buechner, Wishful Thinking, 79) But, unless you repent…
So, repent and believe the Gospel!
Picture: Israel (February, 2010)