July 3, 2015

Everyone's Heart

by Richard Smith, Flickr user rsmithing

Then Jesus went about among the villages teaching.  He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;  but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.  He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."  So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. (Mark 6:6b–12)


Jesus sent his slow-learning friends out on their first work-study job. He told them to go out and be vulnerable, taking nothing so they could be open and trust that the welcome they receive from others is the very care of God for them. It was a lesson in living by faith.

Then they did something no one expected. They said that everyone should repent. Sound familiar? Maybe, but only if you don't catch the significance of everyone. It was expected that the failures, the losers, the poor, the indebted, the servants, the immigrants and exiles, the sick, and all the rest of the sorry lot of most of the people of the empire should repent. Their sad, sorry lives were a result of their sin and stupidity and lack of courage, right?

But Jesus' first followers said everyone. Everyone should repent. Everyone should have a change of heart. Everyone should turn away from whatever in their lives was keeping them from loving God and loving neighbor. Everyone should look to their own part in making a solid mess of the human community.

This meant (and means) that all those who seem to be above the fray of the day-to-day struggle and muddiness of life had to repent, too. It meant that no matter what station in life you found yourself, you were part of the problem, and not just those below you, or above you.  You, too.

I imagine that at first this sounded incredibly liberating for those who were already repenting and taking the majority of the blame for the messed up world. They were by no means off the hook, but they didn't have to carry the weight of the world and the guilt of all the problems around them and in them. 

I also imagine this at first sounded awfully threatening to those who were used to blaming everyone else for the state of the global muddle. I'm sure many of them rejected it outright. But I'm sure some others found the overall message of Jesus and his friends—that this world is governed by a merciful and justice loving mysterious power—transforming and allowed them to respond.

So where are we? Are we part of the group always getting blamed for society's problems? Minorities and immigrants and the poor and the imprisoned and the addicted and the next generation? Are we part of the group always doing the blaming and sure that if there were just more people like us, it would all be better? 

Here's the message: Everyone have a change of heart about where you're heading, turn around, move closer to loving God and loving neighbor more fully and vulnerably and joyfully. Yes, everyone:
  • Oppressed and oppressor
  • Rich and poor
  • Majority and minority
  • Churched and unchurched
  • Men and women
  • Old generations and young generations
  • Religious and secular
  • Obviously sinful and secretively sinful 
Don't get me wrong: We do not all have to repent from the same things. We have very different things to change our hearts about. Very different. There is no easy moral equivalence between oppressed and oppressor so everyone can just say, well, we're all the same. We're not. The current conversation over racism in the United States will not go anywhere if we think everyone is in the same position. Nothing could be further from the truth. But neither can we get anywhere if we aren't all joining the conversation from a place of mutual vulnerability and a willingness to own our own crap and trust only in the grace of God.

At a recent U2 concert, I heard Bono say in talking about the political changes that came to Ireland that ended decades of violence: No one won, so everyone won. In South Africa after apartheid, the truth and reconciliation process made room for all the truth to come out for everyone and everywhere.

Jesus sent this followers out to proclaim the reign of God. He urged everyone to imagine that we live in a world governed by a God who is so merciful everyone can repent and trust that God's response to a broken heart is to give a new heart. Jesus invited everyone to trust that we live in a world shaped by a God so in love with justice and fairness and equity and neighborliness that all will be called to the work of repentance until that day comes when everyone, even the earth itself, has a new heart, the heart of Jesus himself, the very heart of God.         

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