Lent 4C: Nearly unimaginable

Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

All of us have had the experience of thinking twice about what we’re going to say to someone we don’t know really — not well enough to know their politics.  If we say the wrong thing we could suddenly become “one of them,” or they could become “one of them” to us, and we don’t want that to happen. We don’t want the factionalism, the anger, the mistrust of the political scene today to ruin this moment, this friendship.

short stories by jesus

The parable in Luke is about two brothers who have grown to dislike and distrust one another. Amy-Jill Levine writes about this parable in Short Stories by Jesus,  She says that this parable is not about the Prodigal Son’s “repentance” or the father’s extravagant forgiveness. It is about two brothers who dislike and distrust one another.  (It’s a great book. She talks about this parable in Chapter 1: “Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son.”)

Most of us suspect that the father’s explanation (“all that is mine is yours”) is hopelessly naïve.  The Prodigal has returned to beg, not to repent, and we know that until the Prodigal is stopped, he will drain the father’s estate until there is nothing left for anyone.  As for the Elder brother, we can’t see what he has done wrong, so nobody is repenting. It’s a standoff.

Arguably, the parable asks us this question: Do we really need to be reconciled to someone whose values are diametrically opposed to our own, and whose actions and behavior threatens our well-being?  Do those of us who live in the hen house have to be reconciled to the fox?

One answer is, “no” —  we should not be reconciled.  Foxes and prodigals are dangerous and we should protect ourselves. But another answer is, maybe we should try.  Maybe human society is capable of more than “survival of the fittest.”  Maybe we are called to find a way to make peace with our enemies.

Jesus goes past “maybe” to say we absolutely should find a way to make peace with our enemies. Neither this parable nor his life story minimizes how difficult that might be. Like the brothers, our enemies may not be repentant. Like the brothers, our enemies may cling to values which are anathema to us. Like the brothers, we may have to see our carelessness or our privilege through others’ eyes.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians agrees: such standoff reconciliations are so difficult that we cannot do it in our present state. We will need to be a “new creation.”  Think Easter and new life. That’s big: nearly unimaginable. Forty days is not enough time for anyone get there; only enough time to gather the willingness to try.

Lent 3C: Now – a good time to get started

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Spring has finally arrived. We know what comes next: the tax filing deadline, the Boston Marathon and the wonderful season of homegrown garden vegetables. They are all coming. We know that the time to get ready for them is now.  We need to collect receipts; jog some extra miles; order those tomato seeds, now. Because if we wait until tax day or race day, or the day we want to taste our homegrown tomatoes, it will be too late.

That’s what Jesus is talking about in the gospel of Luke.  He is not talking about avoiding death. None of us gets to avoid that. He IS saying we should not put off making changes that we need to make.

The news this week has shown us, again, that evil and brutality can interrupt our lives at any time, as can negligence, ignorance, hurricanes, cyclones, mudslides and floods. We have been reminded this week that the world can be a very dangerous place. Whether someone suffers violence or an accident or illness or terrible weather has nothing to do with whether or not they are a good person.

The passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians suggests otherwise. Paul says that ancient Israelites died in the wilderness because God was not pleased with them. I do not believe that. We do not know the mind of God any more than we know the look or substance or gender of God. In the book of Exodus, God says, “I am who I am.” That is not a lot for us to go on in terms of knowing what God is.

Still, at the heart of Christian thinking there is the notion that somehow, Jesus reveals something important about God’s self. What Jesus is saying to his friends in this gospel is simple and two-fold and probably already familiar to us.

First, Jesus reminds us that the only moment we can do anything with is the present moment. If we need to make changes in our lives, we should make them now.  If we keep putting it off until tomorrow, the day will come when we will have waited one day too many.

Second, he points out that change doesn’t happen overnight. “Repentance” is not merely a decision to change. It is the process of making the change. It requires that we make a start and then keep trying. New habits are not formed overnight.  Virtues do not appear fully formed in a day. They start as small as glimmers of hope and they grow. With time and care, sun and rain, good soil, good compost and good luck, they take root, mature and bear fruit.  It’s a process. Gardeners know that, and so they get started as soon they can.

We know that spring has arrived and that summer is around the corner. Even so, none of us really knows what tomorrow will bring. What we have for sure is “now:” the gift of today and God’s word that God goes with us. That’s enough to make today a good time to get started.