From The Rectory (5 July 20): Repentance – What’s Your Excuse?
’You said John was too austere, you say I’m a glutton, a drunkard and mixing with all the wrong people”. (Matt: 11:16,17 paraphrase). Which is it; too stiff, too easy going, or something else?
Early in my RAF career I remember someone telling me ‘junior ranks don’t come to church here; too many senior people in the congregation’. Given the nature of service life it sounded plausible, until I moved to another base. There I was told, ‘The bosses don’t go to church, clearly we don’t need to either’. I think of this experience every time I hear this short exchange from Jesus (Matt 11:16-19). My mind is made up, I just need a plausible excuse.
It’s not just church. Our conscience pricks us in all sorts of ways, sometimes unfairly. When the outside pressure to do one thing conflicts with our personal desire to do something else, we offer an excuse. Feeling guilty about our choice, the excuse is really for our own benefit. If we are not quite truthful, the only person we deceive is our self.
When we first meet Dickens’ famous miser Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, he has few redeeming features. He does, however, show a certain honesty. He sees no need to help others and no need to excuse himself. Perhaps this honesty becomes his redeeming feature. As the ghosts lead him through his life (past, present and maybe) he honestly acknowledged what he had become, and accepted the opportunity to change. The result is life reinvigorated; for Scrooge and for all he meets.
This is the heart of repentance: seeing self as God sees us; confronting our past, accepting our role in our present, and having the will to change. Allowing God to change us lies at the heart of the new life Jesus offers. Sometimes, like the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the change can be instant and dramatic. More often, as with Jesus’ first disciples, it’s a gradual and life-long process.
Change is all around us at the moment, some of it will be challenging. When the challenge comes will we be honest enough to see through our own excuses?