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Called to Metanoia

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Matthew 4:12-23

Photo by Alex Radelich:

Pastor and theologian Rob Bell has a video series where he explains how in Jesus’ time being a disciple to any rabbi was an extremely honorable thing. Only the best and brightest boys were invited to study Torah and follow a rabbi. Many dreamed of becoming a disciple and following a rabbi, but most were told they didn’t have what it takes. Sort of like how many kids today dream of becoming professional athletes, but only the best of the best make it to the big leagues. Most of those first century Jewish boys weren’t invited to follow a rabbi, and instead they learned the family trade. This helps explain why the disciples were so eager to drop everything and follow Jesus. Being called as a disciple was an incredible honor and compliment. It was an invitation to the most exciting kind of life.

Rob Bell points out that if Andrew and Peter and James and John were fishermen learning their family trade, then they weren’t following another rabbi. They weren’t the best of the best. They didn’t make the cut. In fact, the disciples are later called uneducated, ordinary men (Acts 4:13) by their opponents. Rob Bell says “they’re the JV, the B Team, the not-good-enoughs. Jesus calls them because this movement is for everybody. Jesus calls them and they change the course of human history.”[1]

The past few weeks we’ve been exploring the beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry. And in the Gospel reading we heard today Jesus begins his ministry and calls his first disciples. He calls these ordinary fishermen, and they leave everything to follow him. Jesus called regular people who would’ve thought they didn’t have what it takes to be the best of the best. Jesus called them to be disciples. To learn how to become like their rabbi and to, in turn, make disciples out of the whole world. That all begins here in the text we read this morning.

And the thing Jesus teaches these ordinary people is summarized in his first sentence: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The word we translate as repent is the Greek word metanoia. We might think “repent” means feeling guilty about the things you’ve done, but that’s not really what Jesus is saying. Bible scholars point out that a better translation of metanoia is “change your mind” or “transform your thinking” or your consciousness. Transform the way you understand the world. Jesus’ message is not about feeling sorry for sins, as much as it’s about transforming the way you see reality. Because, as he says, the kingdom is near.

Jesus’ teaching is that of the kingdom becoming manifest in this realm, and he’s calling all who will listen to transform the way we see the world so that we can live into this reality of the kingdom present on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus’ ministry is about this kingdom, this merging of heaven and earth. The manifestation of the divine in the physical realm. That’s what this loaded first sentence of his teaching represents. And all the rest of the preaching and teaching that follows is his unpacking of how this happens. How this metanoia, this transformation of our minds, helps us see and manifest the kingdom—this exciting vision God has for the world.

Transforming our minds has always been a central part of the Christian tradition. Jesus talks about it throughout his ministry, whether it’s through confusing parables meant to expand our way of thinking or through his teaching on prayer and contemplative spirituality. And what this transformation leads to is the other half of Jesus’ teaching: loving our neighbors, serving the poor, spreading the message to the ends of the world. As we journey through Epiphany and the upcoming seasons of Lent and Easter, we’ll see Jesus’ ministry focuses on these things.

The early church understood the meaning of this metanoia too, this transformation of our minds. In the book of Romans, Saint Paul writes about our call to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12) and how it leads us into love and service and the doing of God’s will.

But Paul also understood that the church was full of imperfect people. Untransformed people who didn’t grasp this metanoia, this transformation of the mind that Jesus taught. This is obvious in the first reading we heard today where Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about all their quarrelling and disagreements. How everyone in Corinth wanted be divided into followers of Peter or Paul or Apollos, rather than all being followers of Christ. We humans certainly have a way of letting our sinful thought pattern divide us, whether it’s in religion or politics or anything else. It is precisely those kinds of quarrels Jesus’ teaching is meant to lead us out of. Yet, the church, from its earliest days, was filled with imperfect human beings, who failed to live up to the metanoia Jesus taught.

And yet, at the end of the day, it’s ok if we’re not yet fully transformed. If we haven’t fully gone through that metanoia Jesus proclaimed. Because we are all on the road of discipleship. As Martin Luther said, “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on, this is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.”

Luther understood this life as a journey of metanoia, a journey of minds being transformed to see and be the kingdom of God. By the grace of God, we are all on that road. Being on that road means that the Holy Spirit if guiding us through life and transforming us little by little to have the new minds that Jesus preached about. We are already saved through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our work now is to live into the metanoia—the transformation of our minds—that Jesus came to impart. So that we can manifest the kingdom here and now and embody the kingdom in the world we live in. Only with transformed minds can we see that the kingdom is in our midst, and then live our lives in a way that embodies that truth.

And so, as we reflect on these texts and remember the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the calling of his first disciples, let us remember we are all called to this very same thing. We are called to metanoia, to the transformation of our minds. We are called to recognize that the kingdom is near, to live into the kingdom of God in this realm. To follow Jesus and learn this kingdom way of being. And to be disciples who shine the light of our teacher, our lord, our savior.

Thanks be to God for the gift of being disciples. And thanks be to God for the privilege it is to experience metanoia, this transformation into kingdom people.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Brian, 01/22/2023

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