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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

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The historical Jesus also expected his followers to be different. That's why, as in today's gospel pericope, he constantly calls upon them to "repent."


Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15 
I Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12 
Luke 13:1-9

One of many insights I learned from Carroll Stuhlmueller had to do with today's first reading. The famous Scripture scholar once remarked that he didn't believe Yahweh had positioned an angel with binoculars along the Sinai road Moses was traveling, ready to signal another angel to "cue the bush" when Moses got close. Carroll was convinced that the bush always was burning. But no one, except Moses, had ever looked carefully enough at it to actually see its fire. To say the least, Moses was different from others around him.

The historical Jesus also expected his followers to be different. That's why, as in today's gospel pericope, he constantly calls upon them to "repent." The Greek word metanoia - repent - means more than just "I'm sorry I did it; I'll never do it again." In Scripture it refers to a 180 degree change in one's value system. What I once thought important, I now see as insignificant. What I once judged unimportant, I've now put at the center of my life. The Galilean carpenter demanded that the first step in imitating him was to adopt his value system: to see people and things as he saw them.

Among all the evangelists Luke seems to have regarded repentance as a gradual process. That seems to be why he made a huge part of his gospel a journey narrative. Just as his Jesus constantly is on the road to Jerusalem, where he dies and rises, so his followers are on their own roads to Jerusalem: that place and time in their lives where they likewise die and rise with him.

No doubt Luke enjoyed narrating the story of the patient gardener. Like that unbearing fig tree, a lot of his original readers also needed to be cultivated and fertilized so they'd experience a metanoia in the future. Luke is the one evangelist who constantly zeroes in on God's mercy. (Is it an accident that his gospel is one proclaimed during this "Year of Mercy?)

Unlike most religious teachers, Jesus wasn't overly concerned with just providing people with new information to store in their brains. His goal was to change the way his disciples' brains interpreted the information already there, and the information which was still to come. Just because significant things were happening to his followers and significant people were involved in their lives, there was no guarantee that their value systems were such to interpret them as significant.

Paul treats that problem in our I Corinthians passage. Nothing was more significant in the history of Judaism than the Exodus from Egypt. Yet as the Apostle notes, the majority of those who experienced that unique act of salvation never seemed to have appreciated its significance, just as some of his readers don't seem to be appreciating the significant things and people in their lives. "Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall." Acquiring Jesus' value system is a life-long process. We never reach a point and time when our repentance no longer needs to evolve.

Moses only encountered Yahweh because only Moses had the proper frame of mind which enabled him to come face to face with the God of his ancestors. Of course, his particular frame of mind resulted in his receiving some heavy responsibilities. When one's value system changes, one's responsibilities also change. We begin to see needs and opportunities most people around us ignore. We simply look at people and situations with new eyes.

Perhaps that responsibility thing is the reason some of us walk by a lot of bushes in the course of our lives, and never notice the fire burning in the middle of them. 


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