If you do not repent

August 16, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Luke 13:1-5.

At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

Even though I’ve read the gospels before, I don’t remember this story.

Death may befall us at any time under any circumstances. Jesus was making clear that contrary to the prevalent belief of the time — and still in our time — death was not God’s punishment for sin; he made that abundantly clear to his listeners throughout the gospels. Neither do I think that it is His doing, His plan for each of us. Nor does God protect us while we are worshipping or living holy lives. Death is random, inevitable, inescapable.

“If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” Well, we will all perish whether we repent or not. So, what is Jesus telling me here? Perhaps he’s telling me that unless I change my way of thinking about and living in relationship to God then I will live and die in fear of Him. A new friend of mine, Katherine, recommended Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, which I began to read yesterday. He wrote it in response to a friend’s suggestion that the priest address the “need for a spirituality that speaks to men and women in a secularized society.” Nouwen begins by thinking about one word that he hopes his reader will remember upon finishing his short book: beloved. He refers to the words Jesus heard coming from his father upon emerging from the water of his baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

His Father was pleased because all through Jesus’ youth and young adulthood he had listened for his Father’s will for him and chosen to obey it. It was a process of development, of transformation. That, I think, is what Jesus is telling me. Listen and follow His will for me each and every moment of life for I do not know when death may arrive. Listen and follow His will today so that I may be prepared at the hour of my death. Prepared so that I may be reunited with Him, so that I may have eternal life in His Spirit.

I am beloved by God. I vividly remember years ago staring at my reflection in the bathroom mirror trying to muster the energy to shave. It was undoubtedly the lowest point of my life. I heard clearly God say to me, “You are my beloved son upon whom my favor rests.” All I had been able to hear until that moment was the voice inside me that kept insisting I was unlovable. At that moment God lowered me a lifeline that I was able to grasp and to be lifted by Him from the dark, deep hole that held me captive.

Nouwen writes, “Not seldom, self-rejection is simply seen as the neurotic expression of an insecure person. But neurosis is often the psychic manifestation of a much deeper human darkness: the darkness of not feeling truly welcome in human existence. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that call us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”

I love how he expands on that. “Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say: “I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse —yes, even your child…wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.”

That’s what Jesus means when he tells me to repent. He wants me to believe that I am His Father’s beloved. In so believing, I will never perish because God and I are one.



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