There’s a word that shows up in this Gospel lesson appointed for today; the word shows up continually in the Scriptures and in the vocabulary of the church: repent. Repentance is both better and worse than you might imagine. The English word translated as “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia”: a preposition “meta (after) and “noia” (to think or observe). “Metanoia” – repentance – is something we conclude in hindsight where we realize we had it wrong: something we have done or left undone, said or left unsaid that was wrong. Maybe a conclusion or a judgment call about something or someone which we now see wasn’t right. It may be a whole pattern of actions, brazenly in the open or in the secrecy of darkness that may have snowballed out of control, and it’s wrong. It’s got to stop; we can see it, sadly. And so that’s the other piece about repentance. Repentance isn’t just wisdom gleaned from experience; repentance is regret gleaned from sorrow. We cannot go on, we simply cannot live with ourselves that way any longer. Repentance is hindsight teeming with regret, enough so to fuel a change in life. Repentance is both better and worse than you might imagine. Continue reading
If any of you were present at the Red Sox’ victory parade in Boston yesterday, you may have some sympathy for Zaccheus, the undersized tax collector who scrambled up a tree to catch a glimpse of a local celebrity as he passed by. It was a bold move, one which would have invited the ridicule of others, but Zaccheus, I think, was used to the ridicule of others. As a chief tax collector, Zaccheus was implicated in the corrupt and oppressive rule of the Romans over the Jews. He was a man on the margins of society, despised by his fellow-Jews and used by the Romans. But some strong desire – perhaps the fruit of his own unhappiness – compels him to look for Jesus, about whom he had undoubtedly heard so much. He climbs a tree to see Jesus, but is surprised when Jesus sees him, and invites him to come down and share a meal with him, an act of generosity that upsets the crowd. “All that saw it began to grumble, and said, ‘he has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner’” (vs.7). The result of the meeting, however, is a dramatic conversion, in which Zaccheus promises to give half of his worldly goods to the poor, and to make restitution to all those whom he has cheated.
The question posed by Jesus in today’s gospel reading is an ancient one – and one that is still very much with us today. The question is this: “Do people who suffer deserve to suffer?”
Pause for a moment to consider your own response. “Do people who suffer deserve to suffer? Are the bad things that happen to us our fault? Is there a connection between suffering and sin? Is God punishing us when we suffer?”
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. This day marks the beginning of a journey we will make together, a journey towards Jerusalem where we will meet the Lord in his Passion and Resurrection. This is a time for prayer and for fasting, a time for denying the false self and embracing the true self God intends us to become, a time for drawing near to God in the intimacy of love.
Whether it was his unusual appearance (Mark tells us he “was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey”- Mk 1:6) or whether it was his extraordinary boldness and audacity (“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”- Lk 3:7), John the Baptist was an effective messenger. We read that “crowds” of people flocked to hear him (cf. Mk 1:5). Convicted by his words, they asked what they could do to be saved.
Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
There are times in our lives when we recognize that there is an obstacle that is separating us from God.
Sometimes it is an obstacle of our own making, something we have done or said, perhaps a choice that we made that now we deeply regret. We may feel guilty, or ashamed, or afraid. We may be reluctant to show our face before God. This thing that we have done has become a barrier between us and God.
Sometimes it is something that has happened to us, perhaps something that we don’t understand or don’t feel we deserved, and because we can’t make sense of it we fault God, and there is born in us a new fear or anger towards God, and a reluctance to trust that renders intimacy with God impossible. Continue reading