Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Jesus is a Constant Change of Mind

February 18, 2015
Ash Wednesday

Jesus Points Us To The Father
Your Father… will repay you.

Jesus uses the words “your Father” six times in the Ash Wednesday Gospel. Obviously, his focus is on teaching us the mind and heart of God. And our first focus as his disciples (his “students”) should be on learning how God thinks and feels and loves. This is the first “change of mind”—the first metanoia—to which Lent invites us (see Matthew 4:17: “Repent— metanoeite—for the kingdom of heaven has come near”).

Metanoia” means a “change of mind.” If our focus has been on sins—either the ones we have committed or the ones we are trying not to commit—Lent is a time to change it. Jesus calls us to focus on our Father—on his mind and heart. If we want to think about our sins, we should think about how our Father thinks about them. And he hardly does. Our Father thinks about us; perhaps about how our sins are harming us, or harming other people, but not about our sins as such.

The truth is, our Father is not that interested in sin. Nor is he very interested in what we do, except insofar as what we do determines what we are, or helps other people be and become all they can be.

That is the classic definition of love: to want persons to be and to become all they can be (esse et bene esse). It also defines authentic love of self.

God is love. To know God’s heart is to know that he wants us to be and become; then to have some understanding of what God sees we can be. To “change our minds” where necessary, and want this with him, is metanoia. That is the goal and focus of Lent.

When Paul preached repentance, he did it as a spokesman for God’s heart: “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” That means to be one heart and mind with him. To do this, we need to take note of our sins, then concentrate on what we know of God’s heart.

We find a model of this in the most famous prayer of repentance in Scripture: Psalm 51, today’s Responsorial Psalm:

David is aware of his sin: 

         “I acknowledge my offense, my sin is before me always.” 

But he begins with a focus on God’s heart: 

         “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your                                  compassion…” 

And he looks immediately to the future, to the transformation of heart that God desires for him:

        “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” 

What he wants is relationship with the Father (and, although the Trinity was not yet revealed, with the Son and Spirit): 

       “Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.” 

His focus is not on sin, but on union of heart with God. He knows God does not want him to keep on beating his breast in sadness; that can be deadening. He prays for renewed motivation to go out and do the work of God, without discouragement:: “Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me.”

What “repentance” is all about is a joyful understanding of the mind and heart of God that will put our focus on praising him forever:

       “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

God annihilated our sins when “for our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin”—Jesus on the cross—“so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” It is all about becoming as perfect as God “in Christ.”

Sound impossible? Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus doesn’t give impossible commands. That was the first change of mind he called for: “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 13:7, 10:27; Matthew 19:26).

Do I choose to begin Lent letting Jesus focus me on the Father?

Pray: “Lord, show me your heart, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

Practice: Every time you think of your sins, remember all you can of what Jesus has taught us about the Father’s mind and heart.

Discuss: What does it mean to say, “God looks at our heart more than at our behavior”?

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