Jesus' call: “Change your hearts and lives!”

Posted Jun 10, 2020

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Daily Scripture

Matthew 4:17

17 From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”

Matthew 21:28-32

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’

29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.

30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.

31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first one.”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.”

Reflection Questions

Like John the Baptist, Jesus’ core message called people to “repent” (change their hearts and lives) to enter the kingdom of heaven. He openly rebuked haughty religious leaders who abused the poor (cf. Mark 12:38-40), showing that he was the same God who saw his people’s suffering in Egypt and sent Moses (cf. Exodus 3:4-10). In Matthew 21, he asked some of those abusive leaders (cf. Matthew 21:23), which is better: nice words that ignore needed work, or honest hesitancy that does the job in the end? The answer seemed simple. But living that way is not always simple, then or now.

  • Jesus’ story contrasted a son who talked a good game while disobeying with a son who in the end did what his father asked. Which son was more authentic, and less worried about “looking good”? Today in our society no major organization, and very few people, will openly say they favor racial bias. Yet many policies, laws and actions continue bias in very real ways. How can you grow toward more authenticity between your words and your attitudes and actions?
  • In Jesus’ day, people didn't just dislike tax collectors. They despised them—usually rightly—as traitors who abused the poor. In Jesus' day, prostitutes were, well, prostitutes. How could Jesus say prostitutes and tax collectors were entering God’s Kingdom before the religious leaders? For what reasons does God prefer honest repentance that turns away from evil to pious words that don’t match the way we live?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I honestly think I’m honest. Yet sometimes, as the saying goes, my actions “give the lie” to my honest-sounding words. Keep guiding me toward the deep-seated honesty in which you call me to live. Amen.

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Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, teaching at several seminaries. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

Matthew 4: 17 From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”

I’m sensing an increasing awakening for many white Americans. This is a powerful historical moment when the Spirit of God is calling us to be part of God’s movement in the world toward justice and peace. We follow Jesus’ call to change our hearts and lives now, not in order to deserve getting some reward when we die, but in order to participate in what God is doing right now in the world.

Repentance is one form of participation in God’s life. Repentance does not mean feeling sorry for what we’ve done. It is not a passive state of regret or guilt. It is an active state of change. It is changing our hearts and lives. It means something closer to transformation.

To be sure, repentance may begin with genuine regret or feeling sorry. The shock waves that hit us when we awaken to the ways we have hurt others set us on the path of change. But this is not inevitable. Regret or guilt alone will not lead to transformation. In fact, the opposite can happen. When we get stuck in regret, shame or guilt, it leads to defensiveness and bitterness. Bitterness and fear can never produce the fruits of the Spirit.

So what helps us move toward the transformation of heart and life Jesus is talking about? We get unstuck when we focus on our desire for the things God desires, a longing for a life of love and wholeness, for others as well as for ourselves. Jesus’ vision of the kin-dom of God. Reaching for that, walking toward it, gets us moving toward change. As our hearts strain toward this vision of justice and peace, we experience true repentance, real change.

This is why it’s so important for white people today to not get stuck in shame, guilt and fear. We must seek true repentance as scales fall from our eyes to the deep, systemic racism in which we all live. Guilt alone will keep us defensive and fragile, unable to participate creatively in what God is doing toward justice.

Repentance calls us to root ourselves in our deep, holy desires for what can be, for the world God envisioned at creation, shalom. These longings energize us to step out, get on board with what God is up to right now in America, calling out systemic, racial injustice. When you see acts of violence or hear hateful speech, turn your heart toward God’s desires for us all. Put your energy there.

The good news is that this transformation is not something we have to summon all on our own. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, the Spirit that inspires and offers new life in this work of repentance. May it bear fruit that will last!

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