January 21, 2018
+ I’ve shared this with a few of you. But not all of you. A few months ago, I took my DNA test. These DNA tests are all the rage right now. And they are really great.
For many people, however, there are very few surprises. And, to be honest, for the most part, mine wasn’t much of a surprise either. There was a lot of Scandinavian and a lot of Irish, some German and there was a good percentage of Western European.
But there was one surprise. And quite a surprise. I found out that I was part…. Ashkenazi Jew. (Ashkenazi Jews were of course the European Jews.)
Now, for me, this was wonderful new! And I always kind of suspected I was “part of the Tribe” in some way.
Now, I know. It’s just a small percentage. And for most people, that would be that.
Most people. Not me. For me, it was more than enough. It was a wonderful revelation.
And, in these months since, I have really found myself embracing this percentage of Judaism. I mean, really embracing it. I have been deeply studying Judaism. And the more I study, the more appreciation I have for it all.
But, what it’s even more interesting is how this very minor revelation from a DNA test has sort of changed my perception about so much. What I’ve discovered in all of this is that I am seeing things differently that I did before.
More specifically, I am viewing Christianity differently than I did just a few months ago. I am amazed how we have forgotten—and I mean, really forgotten—our Jewish roots as Christians. And reading scripture from this perspective—both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament—really changes that perspective to some extent. Changes it in a wonderful way.
Even seeing Jesus himself from this new Jewish perspective is amazing. Seeing Jesus as a Jew—this Jewish Jesus, seeing him as a fulfillment of the Jewish expectations of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Anointed One of God, just gives it all more meaning, more depth, more purpose and more history.
I just “get it” now in a way I did not before. And it’s wonderful.
To some extent, it feels I’ve turned around and seen all of this for the first time.
It was all right there. I just needed to turn and see it.
Certainly, this changing of perspective, this “turning around” is what Jesus calls us to do again and again throughout the Gospel. And in today’s Gospel is no exception. In it, we find Jesus essentially doing the same thing. He’s asking his followers—and us—to turn around, to wake up, to see anew. And he does it with one little word.
I think in our contemporary Christian Understanding, we have found this word hijacked a bit. Repent is often seen as a shaming word. We seem to hear it only in the context of “repenting” of our sins. And certainly that’s a correct usage of the word. When we turn from our sins—from all the wrongdoings we’ve done in life—we are repenting.
But I think it’s a good thing to examine the word a bit closer and see it in a context all of its own. The Greek word we find in this Gospel is μετανοειτε (metanoiein), which means to change our mind. However, the word Jesus probably used was probably based on the Hebrew word, Shubh, which the great theologian, Reginald Fuller, translates as “to turn around 180 degrees, to reorient one’s whole attitude toward Yahweh in the face of the God’s coming kingdom.”
When we approach this word with this definition, all of a sudden it takes on a whole new meaning and attitude.
What is Jesus telling us to do? Jesus is telling us to turn around and see, for the Kingdom of God is near.
Wake up and look, he’s saying
We must turn round and face this mystery that is God.
We must adjust our thinking away from all the worldly things we find ourselves swallowed up within and focus our vision on God. Or, rather, we should adjust our thinking, our vision of the world, within the context of God.
However you want to look at it, it is about seeing anew. It is about adjusting to a new perspective. It is about changing the way we think and see and do things.
As you can imagine, this kind of command isn’t a popular one. We don’t like change of this sort. We are a complacent lot for the most part. We enjoy our predicable, daily lives.
I certainly am the most guilty of this. I find a certain comfort in my daily schedule. And having to see everything anew from this new Jewish perspective is sometimes hard. It’s hard to re-see things I thought I knew. It’s hard to have readjust and redefine things that I thought I knew well.
I was happy in my complacency. I was fine when I didn’t have to think too deeply about God…or anything else for that matter.
This of course brings up probably our biggest point. For the most part, we don’t think. We don’t have rational, concentrated thoughts about our faith or the world. We are usually thinking about what is right before us right now. We are thinking about what we are going to do next, what we are going to eat or drink for lunch or supper. We think about what our children are doing or not doing or about what our spouses are doing or not doing, or about the work at hand. We are thinking about what needs to be thought about at that moment. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
But, in that crush of thoughts, thoughts of God don’t come up so easily. What Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel, when he tells us to repent, is, essentially, this:
He is telling us to be mindful.
Be mindful of God.
Be mindful of the good news.
And what is the good news?
The good news is that the Kingdom of God is near.
God has drawn close to us.
God is near.
So, be aware.
What we find here is a very simple lesson in how to live fully and completely. Essentially, Jesus is telling us,
Turn around and see.
God is here.
Jesus is saying to us, Stop living foggy, complacent lives. Repent.
He is saying, Quit being drones, mindlessly going about your duties.
Wake up and think.
Open your eyes and see.
God is with you.
God is here, speaking to you words of joy and gladness.
Hear what God is saying.
See God walking in your midst.
And when we see God, when we hear God speaking to us, we find that we too want to do what those disciples in our Gospel reading for today did.
We want to follow after the One God sent to us. We want to be followers of Jesus. And we want to help others be followers of Jesus. We want to help others see that God is near. Being followers of Jesus means that we are awake and we see.
So let us truly follow Jesus in our lives. We don’t need to do it in a flamboyant fashion. But we certainly can do it in flamboyant fashion if that works for us. We can truly follow Jesus by striving to be spiritually awake. We can follow Jesus by allowing ourselves to spiritually see. And when we hear and see—awake, aware, not sleeping spiritually—it is then that we can become truly effective fishers in helping others see as well.