Sunday, February 26, 2012

Turning Back aka "Repentance"

Question: "Why was Moses wandering through the desert for 40 years?" Answer: “Because men refuse to ask directions.”

I find this humorous piece to be a nice lead-in to the reality that there are more than just a few, both men and women, who had been in those embarrassing situations when, no matter how confident they were at the start of a journey, they ended up being lost.

Most of you who drive might recall having that feeling when something didn’t seem quite right. The familiar sites weren’t there; the landmarks and turns were nowhere to be seen. Things were not simply right. And when that happens, the only resolve you have is that you need to get back on the right track.

Now, making that resolve may sound easy, as easy as making a couple of quick turns, or it may mean having to backtrack for however long you have been going the wrong direction. Either way, there’s no use delaying. You’ve got to get back to the right track and, as those GPS units would immediately tell you, you need to start “recalculating.”

The gospel passage we just heard from Mark has some promptings for us; similar to the annoying “recalculating” GPS prompts as the navigation device resets for us a new set of directions. It might actually sound annoying because we are in “denial” that we are, in reality, lost.

Jesus, according to Mark, proclaimed the Good News of God, and said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News."

“Repent, and believe in the Good News."

This is the alarming prompt that we hear when we go off the expected course of Christian living. This was Jesus’ message when he began his public ministry after his baptism and his trying time of forty days in the desert.

Unlike the prompt that precedes before the GPS device reconfigures a different set of directions made ready for us to follow that will eventually set us in the right direction, these words of Jesus, prompting us to “repent, and believe in the Good News" are our “invitations” to do our own “recalculating” and would only do us good if we have the willingness to follow a new set of directions for both our daily living and our spiritual life.

“Repent, and believe in the Good News."

I noted earlier that this prompting might actually sound “annoying” because there are many of us who are in “denial” that we are, in reality, lost. This attitude is quite common and especially because this new prompting requires us to do our own “recalculating” amidst this altogether different route that we might be tempted to enjoy, after all. Again, just to be a bit graphic here, it’s when you suspect you’re heading towards the opposite direction but then you begin to “enjoy” the sharp turns and the rolling hills as opposed to the original flat and monotonous landscape and then you hear “recalculating”; and you say: “What?”

It’s this kind of annoyance that sneaks up on us especially on those occasions when we know we’re headed the opposite direction in our practice of our discipleship but then we’ve begun “enjoying” those “sharp turns” and new “landmarks of excitement” as we stay on this dangerous, wrong path.

Every so often, the same prompt is given us: “Repent, and believe in the Good News." So, rather than say “But I’m having fun” we might as well say “Oh yeah?” and so you pay closer attention to the prompting that might eventually take you home, safe, rather than get stranded in the middle of nowhere.

So, what’s with this thing about “repenting”? What’s with this spiritual “recalculating”? Here’s my take on that.

Jesus invites all of us to choose a change in lifestyle, a lifestyle that we might find enjoyable and might satiate our varying appetites but, in reality, runs contrary to our Lord’s expectations from those who claim they want to follow him.

This is the lifestyle that prohibits us from a faithful discharge of our baptismal covenant of loving not only God in and through Jesus but in every person as well. On the contrary, we are prompted to affirm this thereby allowing us to follow Jesus and not just being contented to worship him. This change of lifestyle is not imposed, but failure to accept it has disastrous consequences. We might be enjoying those “luscious scenery and cool breeze of excitement” but the truth is that we’re headed the opposite direction.

The only sensible resolve is for us to turn around and get back to the right track. This willful act of turning around is called  “Repentance,” or “Metanoia” in its popular Greek origin. It is a change of mind and heart, a lifelong process of transformation. It entails a paradigm shift from disloyalty to loyalty to someone who ought to matter most in our life, Jesus.

In “inviting” us to change, Jesus is not asking for the temporary foregoing of something pleasurable, like giving up chocolate or smoking for Lent. Sometimes such practices become simply a test of willpower. The “metanoia” to which Jesus invites us is both a turning away from whatever inhibits the full blooming of the divine intent for creation and a turning toward the source of divine love.

“Repent, and believe in the Good News."

Today is the First Sunday in Lent; a season in our church year when we hear the prompting "to change” the loudest. Indeed, there is no better time to begin our heading back to our intended direction than now. These forty days in Lent are indeed short but that makes it even more important that we begin it now.

Good intentions to make better lifestyle choices in the future become empty rhetoric in light of the urgency of Jesus’ invitation. We cannot afford to stay any longer on that wrong direction no matter how exciting it has been laid out before our eyes.

Now is the time to do it. Now is the time for all of us to turn around. And when we do, we once again see the familiar landmarks and while there may be less of those “exciting turns” the good news is that we’re back on track and safe in God’s hands.

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