Readings (Year B):
Reflection: Change your mind
It’s ironic that our readings at this time each year so strongly feature John the Baptist. He is our primary spokesman for Advent and yet, what could be further from the cozy images of family celebrations under the soft glow of tiny tree lights than this wild, haggard prophet dressed in camel hair, smelling of bug-breath and the poverty of desert discipleship?
Image aside, John was an incredible man of dedication and courage who lived what he preached with a depth of integrity that demanded a hearing. John understood his mission as one of preparation: to make straight the path for Jesus.
Through the outer ritual of baptism he wished to facilitate an inner repentance. When we hear the word “repent,” we often think of having feelings of deep remorse for our sinful ways and taking on some punishing hard work to make amends. But the English interpretation of our ancient texts often misses the mark and, in this case, rather spectacularly.
Repentance is a translation of the Greek word metanoia, which simply means to change our mind. The repentance John is initiating isn’t one that would have us shamefully beat our breasts and undertake harsh acts of atonement. Rather, through the ritual of baptism he is hoping to change our thinking—to remove any obstacles that keep us from recognizing God’s boundless love revealed in the person of Jesus.
Meister Eckhart said, “Any talk of God that does not comfort you is a lie.” And isn’t this at the heart of the good news? Jesus brought us this message: No matter who you are, what you believe, what you have done, if you attend religious services or not, you are loved… and there is nothing you can do about that. It is simply not in your power to change God’s love for you. It is impossible, like turning off the sun.
Yet two lies impede our acceptance of this truth: our persistent imaging of God as judgmental and stingy, and our overidentification with our unworthiness that keeps us mired in shame, unable to receive the love God is continuously offering us. We can’t build the kingdom that Jesus dreams for us if we are stuck in the sludge of self-loathing and a skewed image of God. We can’t give love, forgiveness, and unconditional acceptance unless we have received it ourselves.
Offending God with our sin is not the problem. In fact, it is rather arrogant to even imagine there is any sin greater than God’s mercy. The obstacle John is intent to remove is our conviction that we are unlovable, and our sins unforgiveable. How can we live out our baptismal call to share the good news if we haven’t believed the news ourselves? Accepting God’s acceptance is the metanoia, the change of mind, that marks the true repentance John is urging us to undertake. This Advent, may we do just that so we may be bold, faithful, living signs of God’s compassion in our world.