Repentance is a complete turning around of your whole being, a turning to God who longs to freely fill you with nourishment and life.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday in Lent, year C
Texts: Luke 13:1-9; Isaiah 55:1-9
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
Isaiah’s question is powerful. It can’t be ignored. Because if Isaiah’s right, we’re spending our mental, spiritual, and physical energy and time on things that won’t replenish us, feed us. If Isaiah’s right, we’re in danger of starving to death inside, not from lack of physical food or drink, but because we are filling ourselves with emptiness.
Instead, Isaiah says, know this: God offers you all the spiritual food and drink you need or want, endless mercy and love, at no cost. God wants to freely fill up your heart and soul with life and love.
So seek God, Isaiah says. Stop wasting your time and energy on whatever it is you think fills you. Turn to God for mercy and pardon, for steadfast, sure love.
And, strange as it might seem, today Jesus sounds a lot like Isaiah.
Unless you repent, Jesus says, you will perish.
If that sounds terrifyingly harsh, you’re missing Jesus’ point.
Jesus isn’t saying repent or God will have a wicked ruler kill you, because he says the Galileans Pilate murdered weren’t punished by God, either, and they weren’t any worse than you. Jesus isn’t saying repent or God will kill you in a construction accident, like the workers at Siloam, because he says those who died weren’t punished by God, either, and they weren’t any worse than you.
Jesus utterly rejects the idea that people suffer because God targets them for their sins. So, there must be another thing he means by “you will perish as they did.” And there is. Jesus is talking exactly like Isaiah. If you were sitting at a table in a restaurant eating sand and drinking lye, I hope someone would come up and say, “you’re going to die if you keep feeding yourself with that!” They’re not threatening punishment. They’re stating fact. So is Isaiah. So is Jesus.
Jesus says, if you keep going in the direction you’re going, if you keep living and thinking and doing as you do, you’ll dry up and die. Just like Isaiah says. We know this is what Jesus means thanks to Luke.
Only Luke tells of these tragic deaths, and only Luke tells Jesus’ parable about the fig tree. And he puts them together.
That’s significant. It’s how we know what “repent or perish” means. Luke follows Jesus’ frightening words with an absolutely clear parable. There’s a fruitless tree, and the owner wants to clear the land for something more profitable. The current way the tree is living won’t end well. But the gardener talks him out of it. He says, “The problem is, it needs nourishment. Let me see what I can do, feed it for a year, see if I can encourage it to bear fruit.”
That’s the powerful gift of Isaiah and Jesus. In warning that your path won’t lead to nourishment, and will ultimately kill you, they’re giving you hope: God’s life awaits you in the other direction.
We miss this because we’ve made repentance into a puny, weak shadow of what Jesus actually calls for.
When we hear “repent,” we think of individual sins we do, individual thoughts we think, then say, “Yes, I suppose I need to repent of them.” But that’s more like confession: name your sins and ask forgiveness.
Repentance is far deeper. The individual things we think or do that harm others, harm the creation, and cause God grief aren’t the problem. They’re the symptom of the problem. The things I think I need to repent of are the sign that there’s a deeper illness in me. A sign you’re going in a direction away from God’s life, toward death.
As long as we focus on the symptoms rather than the underlying disease, we’re still going in a way that misses God’s nourishment. Thankfully, Jesus means a whole lot more when he says, “repent.”
Jesus’ word is “metanoia.” It means a complete change of mind.
Repentance is a 180-degree shift in how you think, how you reason, in how you live your life. A full stop and reversal. Which makes sense if you’re going away from food and life and hope.
Isaiah and Jesus invite you to ask: What am I wasting my life on? Does my current way of thinking and being actually satisfy me, fill me, heal me, lead me to God’s nourishment?
For example: does dwelling on grudges against some people really feed me? Does having my own list of people I wish God would punish really satisfy me? Does trying to get my way all the time really make me happy? Does distracting myself with entertainment and noise instead of hearing God’s voice really give me purpose? Does getting whatever I want while others suffer and struggle really make me feel good?
You might have many more, but these are the kind of questions to ask. Jesus is asking us to consider exactly how we face the world, how honest we are with our motives, our actions, our behaviors, and then to ask ourselves: is this a direction toward life?
I can’t answer for you, but what I know, what millions of believers have come to know, is the more you turn toward God the more you find life and hope and healing. It’s hard to face the ugly truths of how you think or imagine or live and see whether they’re healthy for you or for others. But wasting time and energy on things that can’t fill you up inside is death. And it’s unnecessary. Because you could seek God, and live.
The Triune God is offering all you need for life now and forever.
It might mean a complete turn-around from how you currently think and live. But it’s a turning into the only path that will give you true life, a turning toward the undying mercy and love of God that fills you up.
There’s one more truth to hear, and it’s about that fig tree. Fruit trees don’t bear fruit to help themselves. If their fruit is eaten, others are nourished. If it falls to the ground, it grows a new tree, it doesn’t nourish the original tree.
That’s how God’s plan works, too. When you turn your whole life and intellect and being toward God you are fed, nourished, manured, satisfied, and you bear fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The fruit of the Spirit.
And that fruit fills others up with God’s nourishment. So they turn from death to life. Then they bear fruit for others. And on and on until God in Christ heals all things.
In the name of Jesus. Amen