The Greek word we translate “repentance” means to change your mind, not specifically to feel sorry, but to turn around 180 degrees, to change your priorities, to head back in the other direction. Good advice at the start of Lent. The reading from Isaiah makes clear what that “other direction” is: “. . . give of your own food to the hungry . . .” “. . . satisfy the needs of those in trouble . . .” Not “give bread”, but “give your bread”.
I don’t really want to do that. I need that bread myself. And if I have some left over, well, I am probably going to need that tomorrow. “You’re going the wrong way . . . turn around! Head the other direction!”
Can I do that? Can I even hear that? It’s not just my food, not just my money, but my self – total self-giving, just as Jesus Himself was the total self-giving of the Father. “Be perfect”, Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There is no dodging the challenge; it threads through all of the New Testament.
Admittedly, we can’t all be like Francis of Assisi; we can’t all throw it aside or all join a religious order. Someone has to farm and doctor and teach and parent and fly planes. God often gives back in trust some of what we give God of our totality. “Yes, teach, but teach for the kingdom.” “Heal, but heal for the kingdom.” “Farm, but farm for the kingdom.” “Heal so that no one is left untreated; farm so that no one is left hungry.”
Getting our heads around what this might mean for us is the stuff of a retreat – the retreat the Church gives us each year – Lent. But we have to make room – make time. Here perhaps we have helpful counsel once again from the first reading. Isaiah stresses the importance God attaches to Sabbath observance. (Apparently the Israelites of Isaiah’s time were as devoted to business as usual seven days a week as we seem to be.) Perhaps the most intangible of God’s many gifts is time. We need to give some of that back. We need to set time aside to ask God to speak to us about what self-giving means for us individually. Time is sacred. We need to recognize that and be grateful.
Sunday celebration of the Eucharist (thanksgiving) is a start, of course. But only a start. It is most transformative when it is a coming together of those who are parenting for the kingdom, healing and teaching for the kingdom, farming and manufacturing for the kingdom. A coming together to draw strength for a new week of work for the kingdom, strength drawn from one another and from Him who is total self-giving. It can’t – it shouldn’t – be rushed. It needs to spill over into the whole day, a day when, as Isaiah says, we are not totally focused on our own pursuits.
Can I do this? I am not sure I even want to. But perhaps this Lent I can give God a little of the time God has given me, time in which God’s power can transform my reluctance if I let it.
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