Donald R. Elly, M. Div.
Repentance has up to now been almost an obligation to have a meaningful Lent, just as Ash Wednesday starts with acknowledging our mortality and failure to live as God desires. It is symbolized with ashes.
Repentance has always been associated with the request to have God “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me.” No doubt that is because it is easier to think of all the ways we fall short of what we want to be, and if we judge ourselves by our failures, surely God must agree. Repentance is a major theme of this passage. Jesus makes it the focus of this passage with two no’s and a yes!
Jesus asks two questions followed with two dramatic illustrations of human suffering. The first is at the hands of Pilate, the Governor of Judea, who kills worshippers in the Temple. Pilate is attempting to keep order and peace to please Rome. The Second example is a construction accident. Is human suffering a punishment of God for society’s failure to follow the Covenant? No and No says Jesus. However, in both cases “…unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Eric D. Barreto, writing on this text in The Christian Century (Feb. 27, 2019) notes, “Death is not purposeful or meaningful…(it) pursues us all whether we fall victim to retribution or empire or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Death is coming for us all, but will not overcome us—if we repent. God’s grace blunts the sharp edge. Repentance acknowledges that God can redeem, God can set right, God can make whole.”
Do you trust Jesus‘ words here? Repentance is not just turning away from some pleasure or harmful behavior, it is turning toward God and claiming God’s love in Jesus as a gift that makes suffering and pain meaningful and a instrument of hope. Isn’t this what the cross is all about?
Jesus makes this same point as he tells of the gardener interceding with the Master for one more year to cultivate and strengthen the tree to be fruitful. I am thankful that God offers repentance as a positive possibility and will gratefully accept God’s help not only at Lent, but anytime. Frederick Buechner in “Beyond Words(2004) summarizes the focus of repentance I these words,”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!”March 24, 2019 Cycle C 3rd Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 55: 1-9 Ps.63:1-8 1stCor.10:1-13 *Luke 13:1-9