27 Jan 2008
“From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt. 4:17) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
I’m going to take a chance and talk politics for a change, and just for a minute or two. Our country has a huge budget deficit and a huge trade imbalance. The government spends a whole lot more than it earns and so we have a budget deficit. Americans buy a whole lot more from foreign countries than foreign countries do from America and so we have a trade deficit. These are a couple of the primary reasons why our economy isn’t doing so well at present and why there’s talk about a possible recession. These problems have been around for a long time, and it looks like they’ll be with us for a long time to come. But this is an election year. Tough measures won’t fly, and long-term solutions won’t get people re-elected. So our government is toying with the idea of sending all of us some money. Republicans and Democrats are both talking about the same thing; their differences are over the details not the substance of sending us some money. They call this a stimulus package. They hope that we will all go out and spend whatever they send to us. They don’t have the money to give us so the budget deficit will get worse, and I’ll bet most of the stuff we buy with this unexpected windfall will be at a Walmart or a Best Buy or something like that, which means that our trade deficit is going to get worse.
We have a national credit crisis at present. Homes are being foreclosed on at an increasing rate. Credit card debt is bankrupting families. The price of everyday commodities like gas for the car and food for the table are climbing, but the government says go out and spend more! These are long term problems that all of us face, but in an election year the government thinks we Americans can only think short-term solutions. Maybe they won’t be held responsible in November if we have a fond memory of the day the government sent our check in the mail. But after November 4th the problems are still going to be there, and they may even be worse because of these short term solutions.
Short term solutions can look appealing, but do they accomplish anything? We’re in our little transitional season of Pre-Lent right now. We’re getting ready for the 40 days that will take us from Ash Wednesday to the grave of Christ. The church asks that today we read from the Gospel about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. His very first recorded word is repent. It’s a call to change our orientation. To think differently. To look at life differently. To question our priorities. What do we think is meaningful? How would we define success? What gets all of our attention and energy? In these few questions, is God any part of the answer? And if He’s not, repent. Repent is about a life’s orientation, not a short term change. It’s not just about what we’re going to do for 40 days. It’s about who we are and what we want to be. It’s not just about sacrifice and admitting we’re sinners. It’s about changing our goals and priorities. It’s about remembering that we are spiritual creatures, not just physical ones.
Repent, it’s Jesus’ first word of the gospel proclamation. He’s then going to follow it for the rest of His life with what that means. He’s going to take that word to the cross and to His grave. He’s going to tell us and show us what a changed life means. This simple word is anything but a short term solution. If we really repent, if we really change, then we define ourselves differently, then we discover that God is a part of our answers.
On Martin Luther King Day, I saw parts of a movie about his life. The segregated south was a tough place to practice a real Christian faith, a faith that changes people. Rev. King kept preaching non-violence. When you watch in a movie how the blacks were taunted, how they faced injustice and violence, how they were pushed to fight back so that the authorities could use this as an excuse to come in with force, you have wonder to yourself how they didn’t swing back. You wonder how Rev. King could get up in that pulpit and preach forgiveness, and how he could walk down the street and be a peaceable man. But that’s what repent means. It means turning away from what may be the expected and natural response of other violent people, the easy and short term answer of getting even with the guy pushing you around, and instead doing something different, something unexpected, something that changes a person, something that confuses the unrepentant. When Rev. King wouldn’t fight back, segregation was over because the unrepentant didn’t know what to do, how to respond, how to change. He wasn’t a small man. If he took a swing, it probably would have felt real good for a little while, for the short term, but nothing would have changed or been solved. Repent is for the long term.
Paul tells us today that the focus of his preaching is the cross so that it “might not be emptied of its meaning.” (1 Cor. 1:17) He understood the message of the cross as being strong not weak. Jesus let Himself be broken on the cross, but His teachings and His example remained intact. They proved to be stronger than anything even the mighty Roman Empire could concoct to break Him down. That’s why the cross isn’t a sign of defeat, but of victory. Jesus remained true to His gospel message of repentance, of changed attitudes and goals, and not even the horrible execution of the cross could make Him waiver. When Paul preaches about the cross being emptied of its meaning, he’s talking about the cross as no longer standing for anything substantial. He’s talking about the cross as something Jesus had to do once, but doesn’t change the way I must think or act. The cross emptied of meaning means that it no longer calls me to repent and to change my life.
Short term solutions don’t change anything, and we shouldn’t be fooled by them. When Jesus says repent and when Paul talks about the meaning of the cross, these are messages about life-change. This process has to begin somewhere, and maybe as we stand before the cross at this solemn time of the year, maybe this is the time and place to think about what change, what repent, really means for a Christian. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)