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Lectionary Living

Repentance, PRN

2/21: Genesis 9:8-17  •  Psalm 25:1-10  •  1 Peter 3:18-22  •  Mark 1:9-15

    Mark's way of moving quickly to the point scores again this week, with the simple advice to repent. Go another way, find a new direction for life. But what's the different direction?

    For that, I'm turning to the Ash Wednesday reading (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21), where Jesus is telling others to beware of showing off so that others can see you: whether in giving, or fasting, or praying. Trying to please others is, as Jesus said, its own reward, and a dangerous one at that. The more a person works to please the world, the more the world demands, in a never-ending cycle of giving up who one might have been to win the approval of others.  

    Going back to the Mark reading, when Jesus is baptized, a voice came from heaven announcing that this is my son with whom I am well pleased. Jesus has a big problem now, in pleasing not a person, but God! And as if on cosmic cue, he is driven immediately to the wilderness for a long period of testing.  

    When a person steps up, as Jesus did in his baptism, a testing period comes next. The world wants to know if the person really means it, regarding whatever position the individual has taken. Others will try to push the person back to their previous, less mature, ways of living. Over time, if the person can maintain their new way of living, others will accept and adapt to it. Testing this way is like proofing the yeast: making sure the yeast can do what it's supposed to do so that the bread will rise.

    A similar testing process occurred when Jesus pleased God. The same testing was required, in effect asking, did he mean it? Was he baptized to try to please the crowd and/or God? Or was he baptized as part of becoming the person he was choosing to be?

     Most of us reading and thinking about the scriptures have been baptized – some as infants or children, others as adults. All of us, though, have a chance to ask ourselves, at this point in our lives, about our baptism. Did we mean it? Do we mean it – now, do we take on our baptismal covenant? The promises that were made by or for each of us, the prayers that were made on our behalf, the baptism itself – these can be owned or disowned, all day long.

    How easy it is to disown them! Small compromises – usually made to please someone else – get in the way of being faithful to one's principles. Joining with others, for instance, in unkind comments regarding a third person. Or, going along with others when actually one thinks differently about a subject. Or, taking care of someone else's responsibilities rather than one's own. It's seldom a big, breaking-news event; rather, it's the many small disloyalties to oneself that get in the way of becoming one's mature self.   

    Becoming this mature self takes practice. It takes noticing that one is feeling pressured, first. Then, instead of blaming others for the feeling, it takes deciding for oneself how one will act. It takes looking at one's own anxiety – for instance – if I disagree, will they like me less? – and concluding that being oneself is worth the risk.

    The good news here is that baptism allows for the problems of being human. The baptismal covenant is not a promise to get it right, but a promise to repent, as needed. Finding a new way takes time; managing oneself with integrity takes practice.  

Daily Reflections

Morning: What would it mean today to live according to my baptismal covenant?

Evening: When was I trying to please others today? What did I gain by giving up my self?     

Psalm 25:8-10 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

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