“I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” The anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke places these words on the lips of Jesus, and I have no difficulty believing this story of Jesus’ response to those who were grieving the tragedy of the deaths of the Galileans whose blood had been spilled as the result of political violence. “I tell you, you will all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” This is as true now as it was then. We shall all come to the same end unless we change our ways.
“Change our ways.” This phrase is translated from the Greek word metanoia – and I’ve spoken about metanoia many times — it is all too often translated simply as repent. Sadly, our understanding of the English word repent, is scarcely capable of capturing the depth of meaning in the Greek word metanoia. Taken at its most literal, the word metanoia means to turn around, to go another way. In first century Palestine, metanoia was often used to communicate the need to change the way you think, the way you see things, they way you respond to things, the way you act. To do things differently, to change our ways. To go beyond the mind you have, the way you think and respond to life or to change our ways. Unless we change our ways, we will all end up like the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their own sacrifices in the Temple.
Pontius Pilate, the appointee of the Empire which dominated the people in the lands it invaded with an iron fist. Pontius Pilate, so wicked that even his own Roman over-lords couldn’t stomach his abuses. So vile was Pilate, that even the powers that be in Rome were forced in the end to relieve him of his post and summon him back to Rome to face charges, for what today, we would call war crimes.
The Galileans of which Jesus’ spoke are believed to have been, the news of the day, the latest victims of Pilate’s cruelty, pilgrims to Jerusalem murdered on Pilate’s orders, their blood spilled as a public example to obey the Empire. Did they deserve their fate? The oppressed peoples of Palestine certainly didn’t believe so. They were good people, pilgrims fulfilling their religious obligation to visit the Temple, publicly displaying their piety. Then murdered in the public square, in front of the Temple, no less. A violation of everything the people held dear. Such good people, they surely didn’t deserve to die.
Why do bad things have to happen to good people? I don’t know about you, but that question resonates a little too well for me, right now. It rises from deep within my very core, causing my entire body rock back and forth. I’ve recognized this question rocking the bodies of others several times in the past few weeks. Most vividly of late in a young man, a boy really, a boy forced to grow up, far too soon. He’s kneeling before the butchered body of his mother, head in his hands, his whole body rocking back and forth, his mother’s blood running in the bombed-out street of a far-off town in Ukraine. His pain beamed around the world and into our own living-rooms, and it caused me to rock back and forth with him.
Why. It is a question on the lips of countless sisters and brothers all over the world this very morning. A question rocking the bodies of countless millions grieving, those who are grieving the spilling of blood and the oppression in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Myanmar, in Ukraine and in countless other locations all over the world. “I tell you, we’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.” Metanoia. Metanoia. Metanoia. You would think we would have learned by now. How much more innocent blood must be spilled before we learn that we’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.
Hypersonic. Hypersonic missiles. I’d never even heard of hypersonic missiles until just a few days ago. Nor had I thought much about NORAD recently. Remember NORAD? I’m old enough to remember those drills in school where we were taught that in the event of a nuclear attack we should hid under our wooden desks. We laugh at it now. It was as a child in school crouching under my desk, that I learned the acronym NORAD. North American Aerospace Defense Command. This week, the Canadian Commander General of NORAD warned us all about the treat of supersonic missiles something I’d never heard of before. But he warned us of this threat, these missiles which he predicted might lobbed in our direction. Then he came in with his clincher: the reality that we have no way to stop them. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Bad things it seems can happen even to good, upstanding, peace-loving Canadians. Albert Einstein is often credited with having lamented that “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”. Metanoia! “We’ll all come to the same end unless we change our ways.”
I know. I tried not to do this. This should be a day of celebration. It’s been two long years of pandemic isolation, and here we are together, in the flesh. It’s the first day of spring. We should be celebrating. We should be jumping for joy! We should be filled with the excitement as we anticipate what the future holds. And all this preacher can offer you is a warning. No wonder, churches can’t attract people back into their buildings. I could sugar-coat all of this. I know colleagues who do. No talk about what’s happening in the world. Let us pray. Let us just bow our heads and pray.
Maybe our prayers will stop us from rocking back and forth in despair. I too would like something more to offer Jesus saying, “you’ll all come to the same end unless you change your ways.” That’s the thing about truth, we know it deep within the very core of our being, that place where the rocking back and forth begins. The place where our “Why?” questions are kept. Deep within us. We know that unless we change our ways blood will continue to be spilled.
We also know that there are so very many of our ways which need to be changed in order to end the violence. Justice is a difficult taskmaster. Peace, real peace, the shalom Jesus lived for, demands armies of justice-seekers in order that peace can break out all over the planet. There’s so much to do. We are enmeshed in systems, in ways of being which demand the oppression, the poverty and the inevitable spilling of blood of innocents. What can we possibly do to achieve justice in the kinds of empires of domination in which we continue to live, and move, and have our being? We are but a handful of people. What can we possibly do?
Well, it turns out that there is so very much we can do. For we are wonderfully and beautifully made, capable of such astonishing deeds of compassion. Millions and millions of us have mobilized, armed only with our desire to offer comfort and support. About a million people a week have fled their homes in Ukraine. Their neighbours in Poland, Romania, Moldovia, Hungry, and various other places, they have opened their arms in welcome, offering shelter and comfort. Millions and millions and millions of dollars have been offered to meet humanitarian needs. They may have escaped the media’s attention but aid agencies, continue to mobilize colossal responses to the needs of those who are suffering in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and countless other places were innocent people are suffering from the oppression and violence perpetrated by the empires in which we are enmeshed.
Yes, the needs are many and the workers are few. But we are all part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We can shrink in despair, or we can roll up our sleeves, join together, pool our wisdom and our resources, and tend the vineyard. That’s what prayer is. Prayer begins with our “why?” moving deep within us. Prayer flows through our tears and rocks our bodies in ways we have the power to ignore and the power to respond to with action.
Yes, the suffering is immense. Yes, the injustice, the oppression, the hatred, and the greed seems insurmountable. Yes, it is tempting to offer up a few prayers, post something positive on social media, wear a ribbon, and then shake it off, move on to the next thing, comforting ourselves with the idea that we are only one person. What can we possibly do in the face of so much suffering in the world? We can do? What can we do? We can do what we all too often do; we can allow ourselves the luxury of turning away. We can turn away and we can resign ourselves to the fact that we can’t change and so, yes we too shall perish. Or we can refuse to accept that we are less than splendid creatures. Billions of years of evolution resulted in the creation of our species. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
We can do so much more than we are doing. We can change our ways. The MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of REALTY lives, and moves, and has being, in, with, through, and beyond us. We are intimately connected to one another in ways which will take more than our lifetimes to comprehend. We are in the DIVINE MYSTERY which is LOVE and this LOVE which is DIVINITY is in us. Each one of us is a beautiful expression of the DIVINE MYSTERY which IS LOVE. The SPIRIT of LOVE has been at work for billions of years finding expression in the wonders of Creation. Right here and right now, this LOVE is expressed in, with, through and beyond us, seeking justice and making peace.
Unless we change our ways, we will perish. So, might I suggest that we begin by changing up our questions a little. How about instead of “why” we begin to ask “what?” What will people learn about the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY when they encounter us? What LOVE will they discover living in, with, and through us? What justice will they see us seeking? What peace will they see us making? When people encounter us, “What” expression of DIVINITY will they encounter us?
Don’t like the question “what?” Then ask, “HOW?” How can I embody the LOVE which is the SOURCE of all being, right here and right now? How can I become the answer to my prayers? How can I become the answer to their prayers? Maybe now is not the time for our questions. Maybe now is the time for us to change our ways, so that no more blood needs to be spilled. We, together with all those we are intimately connected with, we are the answer to our prayers, to our questions, to our longings for justice and peace.
There is so very much more that we can do, right here and right now. Let us join our efforts to the efforts of the countless millions who are right now, seeking justice, right now making peace. Yes, there is lots of work for us to do. More work than we can even begin to imagine. But when we begin to understand that LOVE finds expression in us, LOVE which is beyond our ability to even begin to imagine, finds expression in us, then we begin to see endless possibilities.
There’s a mishmash of quotes attributed to the Talmud which has been going around these days, which has become for me an answer to, the seemingly endless work which lies before us. It goes like this, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon the work.” The good news is we are fearfully and wonderfully made, capable of changing our ways. So, let us metanoia, now. For we have a whole lot of LOVE in us and a whole lot of LOVing to do. Metanoia, now. Be LOVE in the world. Now.