The best teacher is he who is also a learner.
One day Saint Francis and Brother Leo were walking down the road. Noticing that Leo was depressed, Francis turned and asked, “Leo, do you know what it means to be pure of heart?”
“Of course. It means to have no sins, faults, or weaknesses to reproach myself for.”
“Ah,” said Francis, “now I understand why you’re sad. We will always have something to reproach ourselves for.”
“Right,” said Leo. “That’s why I despair of ever arriving at purity of heart.”
“Leo, listen carefully to me. Don’t be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire him. Rejoice that he is what he is–your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you’ve turned to Jesus, don’t turn back and look at yourself. Don’t wonder where you stand with him.
“The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human, even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself on the beauty, graciousness, and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise him from sunrise to sundown. Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure, and uncertain, they are able to release it into his peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled–stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.”
After a long pause, Leo said, “Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.”
“No doubt about that,” replied Francis. “But holiness is not a personal achievement. It’s an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew. To cry out, ‘You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,’ that is what it means to be pure of heart. And it doesn’t come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions.”
“Then how?” asked Leo.
“Simply hoard nothing of yourself; sweep the house clean. Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging painful consciousness of your past. Accept being shipwrecked. Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love of Christ. Jesus is Lord. That suffices. Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are no longer aware of yourself, like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.”
Leo listened gravely as he walked alongside Francis. Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul.
He told this next parable against those who trusted in their own righteous standing and despised others.
“Two men,” he said, “went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, one was a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed in this way to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the other people-greedy, unjust, immoral, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax-collector stood a long way off, and didn’t even want to raise his eyes to heaven. He beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am.’ Let me tell you, he was the one who went back to his house vindicated by God, not the other. Don’t you see? People who exalt themselves will be humbled, and people who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In looking through books on my shelves this week, while inspired by Jesus’ words in Luke 5 on new wineskins, and thinking of conversion and regeneration of heart, I came across A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell Bock. And I noticed that I had gone through the section on “Repentance” highlighting many parts of it. Re-reading them, I was reminded of why I highlighted these parts in this section, for they are wonderful reminders.
Reminders of truth, such as these are, like my friend Mike says, “like a chiropractic adjustment.”
I shall share them with you now:
It means to “change one’s mind,” but in its Lucan usage it comes close to the Hebrew verb for repent, which literally means “to turn, turn around.”
So repentance is a reorientation, a total shift of perspective from where one was before repenting.
To repent includes an awareness that as a sinner one has an unhealthy relationship with God that needs the “medical attention” of the Great Physician. Repentance involves recognizing that a person is spiritually sick and impotent, unable to help oneself. Repentance is turning to Jesus for spiritual healing, for treatment of one’s heart and life, for one knows that only Jesus can give “the cure.”
So the sinner who repents to receive salvation comes to Jesus, knowing that only he can heal the relationship to God and deal with sin and its consequences.
Faith in Jesus is where the process ends, but to get there, a person changes his or her mind about sin and God and turns to God to receive the offer of salvation through Jesus.
This response is wrapped up in the ideas of repenting and turning, just as repenting and turning are wrapped up in faith. One who turns to God follows in God’s way and produces fruit.
Deeds are the natural, expected product of genuine repentance.
There is no bargaining, only the seeking of mercy. That humble reliance is a change of perspective, and it reflects the essence of repentance…the tax collector rests on God’s mercy.
In referring to himself as a sinner, the tax collector makes no comparison to others, unlike the Pharisee. The tax collector is concerned only with improving his own spiritual health, and he knows the only way to do so is to rely totally on God’s mercy.
In summary, Luke sees repentance as a change of perspective that transforms a person’s thinking and approach to life. It applies to Jews and Gentiles. It summarizes the appropriate response to the message of Jesus and the apostles. Bringing forth fruit is a natural outgrowth of repentance. Just as a good tree brings forth good fruit, so genuine repentance produces change in one’s life (Luke 6:43-45).
The old words describing the paradigm for salvation are Justification–>Sanctification–>Glorification.
Let’s give a quick nutshell of these words (as I understand them) and then rename them, updating them just a bit:
Justification–This is that point of realization that you are free of the separation from God that is caused by sin. I think of this as your awakening. The word regeneration is appealing to me, as it is more descriptive than “justification.” There is a regeneration of the heart, which I see as a change in your desires. This shows how it is both sudden and progressive at the same time. You now want God, but still possess many habits which lead you away from Him. There is a new awakening as a result of calling out to God, surrendering yourself to Him, realizing you can’t live this life well on your own, and at the same time, realizing Someone wholly other wants to live life through you. (I agree more and more with author Richard Rohr who says this comes as a result of either great suffering and/or great love.) And you see that the only way to live is through the power of the wholly Other. As a result, you are given new desires–desire for God above all else. You see that God is all there really is and you just want Him. But it is usually not immediate that all the things that get in the way of God fall away. That happens over time through the next phase.
Sanctification–This is that lifelong process of shedding all that is not purely God in our lives. As a result of the regenerated heart, you begin crucifying whatever gets in the way of being one with God. This is the process of thesis which we talked about a couple weeks ago. The word used for this process today is usually transformation. This is us going from caterpillar to butterfly throughout this lifetime. It is largely the self-discipline of filling yourself more and more with God and letting go of what is not of God. And it can only really happen as a result of regeneration. Here is where we sometimes get out of order-wanting, expecting, demanding transformation of ourselves and others, without first going through regeneration. I just don’t see this out of order process happening. Here is where AA really gets it right. They know you cannot kill your addiction without first coming to a place of total surrender-desire above all else to be free. Once you reach that place, and only then, will you then do what it takes over time to eliminate all that is in your way of being free from enslavement to alcohol.
Glorification–This is our future perfection in Christ, when we no longer see Him through a dark glass, but we will see Him face to face for who He really is. If we want to keep with our naming scheme, we could coin the term perfectification. Oooh, I like that! What makes me nervous about perfectification though, is the thought of finding out all the things I was wrong about in my thinking of Jesus and others. We will see clearly, and it might be a little daunting! “Oh, you mean you didn’t want me to tell everybody how to live their life? My bad.”
Yes, I think I’ve made plenty of mistakes urging transformation before pointing toward and praying for regeneration.
This kind of stuff can sound a little heady at times, but I see it as incredibly practical. I hope it makes sense in your heart as you ponder it this day.
Continuing yesterday’s thoughts, I wonder if we’re trying to force new wine into old wineskins.
Do we, at the church, focus on the fruit before the root?
Can we really ask people to bear fruit before they have been renewed supernaturally by our Lord Christ?
I guess we can always ask, but can we really expect it?
John 15 appears to tell us we really cannot:
The branch can’t bear fruit by itself, but only if it remains in the vine. In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. People who remain in me, and I in them, are the ones who bear plenty of fruit.
Without me, you see, you can’t do anything.
Without a life-giving connection to the risen Christ, can we live the life He has for us?
Sadly, I see a lot of burst wineskins come out of many churches. With a lack of focus on connecting to the Source of Life, people stay “followers”–always a few steps behind. People remain dependent. Then if something or someone fails them, they’re left out in the cold, instead of still confident in God, understanding humans are limited and will fail us time to time, but always seeking their life from Christ.
As my spiritual partner has been asking lately, “Don’t you have to become independent before becoming powerfully interdependent?” Are we too dependent? The reign of God enters an individual heart first, then becomes a tangible force in the world and with others.
I believe that God wants to give each of us a new heart–a new wineskin– so that it can handle the pouring in of His new wine.
I see more and more why Billy Graham preached the way he did. He knew conversion was needed before moving on in the spiritual life. The heart needed to be surrendered to God so it could be regenerated by Him, making it possible for new Life. Abundant Life.
Many abused this of course, and “conversion” became nothing more than a one time prayer with no follow up. So maybe it was real, maybe it wasn’t. Then we got away from preaching conversion by God, and it became more about works, all the while saying works alone can’t save you. Confusing as hell.
So are we putting the “Cart of Transformation” before the “Horse of Regeneration”?
More on that later…
He added this parable. “Nobody tears a piece of cloth from a new coat to make a patch on an old one. If they do, they tear the new, and the patch from it won’t fit the old one anyway.
And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the new wine will burst the skins: it will go to waste, and the skins will be ruined too.
You have to put new wine into new wineskins. And nobody who drinks old wine wants new. ‘I prefer the old,’ they say.”
This is quite a rich passage, culminating in verses 36-39 which you see above. Jesus gives two vivid pictures to illustrate the truth of God’s reign.
The first one seems to be meant to be somewhat absurd. Even back in the first century, clothing shrunk from washings. Eventually it would arrive at its final size. Therefore, to sew a new patch of cloth onto an already shrunken one would cause tearing, and render both the patch and the article of clothing useless. The extra absurdity is the idea of tearing a piece of cloth from a new coat to sew onto an old one. Again, the idea is that both are ruined.
As for the second picture: Nobody puts new wine into old wineskins. Wineskins back then were usually made of sheepskin or goatskin. The hair was removed and the hide was treated to prevent the skin from changing the taste of the contents. Over time the skin of this container would age and become brittle. So it would be foolish to put new wine into an aged skin because, as the new wine ferments, it expands the container and would literally burst it, since the container is brittle. So you’ve lost your container and your wine. Both are ruined.
What’s the point?
In the context of who Jesus is talking to here, He seems to be saying that you cannot just add on the new way of relating to God (through Jesus) to your old ways (in this case, the Judaism of His day as interpreted by the religious “experts”).
For us, Jesus is not something to be added on to what we’re already doing. He is not part of a self-improvement plan. He is to replace what we’ve been doing, how we’ve been relating to God and others. He interprets life, Scripture, and God for us.
He is New Wine, and if put into the old wineskin of our former ways of thought, both are ruined and do us no good. The new way requires a new heart, a new spirit. This is why Jesus calls for repentance. That is, a new way of thinking and relating. Remember the Greek word for repentance-metanoia-“change your thinking, think about your thinking.” Unfortunately, this rich word “repentance” got hijacked by televangelists some time ago, and was deemed to mean nothing more than “Stop having sex with your girlfriend/boyfriend or else!”
That is not gonna usher in new life if the heart is not made new to receive said life. That is merely trying to put new wine into an old wineskin.
John the Baptist’s message was that repentance was required to prepare the way of the Lord. New belief and thinking are required. Action will surely follow this. If the focus is on action first, generally it will just lead into behaviorism and we will fall back rather quickly.
One of the most important, and less obvious, ways of thought I believe we need to repent of, is how we think of God and ourselves and others. We said here quite a while back that if you think of yourself as less valuable than how God thinks of you, then you must repent of that way of thought or else you will remain stuck. If you think of God as one micron less than good, then you will not grow into Him. If you judge others instead of love them, you remain stagnant and cannot see the Light while in that state.
New ways must have new containers. A new form, a new spirit, a new approach are required.
But, as Jesus says at the end here (v.39), we prefer our old, easy ways to something new. We want predictable as opposed to mysteriously new, even though the new, while unpredictable, promises adventure and fulfillment beyond our imagination.
One of my absolute favorite scholars, Luke Timothy Johnson, ends his interpretation of the passage with this:
To drink the new wine offered at Jesus’ banquet, to wear the new garment for his wedding feast, one must have a new heart, go through metanoia, a change of mind, such as that shown by tax-agents and sinners.
Lately I’ve been hearing God say,
It’s all me.
Keep working really heard.
Oh the beautiful paradox of God!
…More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friends?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God…
To love anyone is to hope in him always. From the moment at which we begin to judge anyone, to limit our confidence in him, from the moment at which we identify (pigeonhole) him, and so reduce him to that, we cease to love him, and he ceases to be able to become better. We must dare to love in a world that does not know how to love.
-A French priest