February 27-March 5
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Christ is in the midst of His ministry. He is healing and preaching and saving, and people are starting to follow Him around. As one specific part of His ministry, He shares a meal with publicans and sinners. To understand the significance of this, there are a few things we have to know about ancient Israel.
Sharing a meal was significant in Jewish culture. It meant more than it can mean to us in our day. It more explicitly meant friendship with those you were dining with. Jesus wasn’t just eating around these people. He was creating relationships with them.
Sinners could have meant a couple of different things. It could have meant that they were actual sinners, but it could have also meant that they were not of Israelite blood or that they didn’t keep the law of Moses to the extent that the Pharisees did.
And then there were the publicans, the tax collectors. The publicans were in charge of paying a specific amount to the Roman government. Anything they could collect from the Jews beyond that specific amount was theirs to keep. Corruption was rampant amongst publicans, and publicans were often excommunicated.
So Christ shares a meal with these people, and shocker…the scribes and Pharisees don’t like it. Christ responds with the following:
Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
It’s also significant that Christ used the example of a physician when He was speaking about sin. There are many reasons why this is important. Here are two different aspects of Christ’s attitude towards sin that I want to talk about.
Number one: Sin is a sickness. Sometimes sickness isn’t completely our fault; it came to us through our circumstances. Sometimes sickness comes because of who we choose to associate with, and sometimes we bring that sickness on ourselves because of poor choices that lead to direct infection or vulnerability to illness. But regardless of how the sickness came about, it needs to be removed. Regardless of how much we are at fault, it needs to be removed. Regardless of whether we willingly invited that sickness into our lives, we still have enough agency to take steps to get better.
Number two. This reflects His attitude towards repentance. Repentance is healing. It is getting better from sin; it’s not about continuing to let sin harm us even when we’re no longer making that mistake. Repentance is not about feeling ashamed for the rest of our lives whenever we think about it. It’s not about being afraid that someone will find out and hold it against us. Repentance is about reaching a point where we are healed, where an injury is no longer affecting us. If you’re still hurting over a past sin, there might be a couple more steps of healing and sometimes those steps include choosing to have faith in the Savior’s promises that He took care of it all.
I remember an experience I had in which I experienced repentance in its true form. It was a time in my life where I was struggling with some specific flaws of mine. I was doing everything I could to try and get over these mistakes. I would put notes all over my wall. I prayed and read scriptures and made little rules for myself. I changed the background on my phone so that every time I opened my phone, I would be reminded to do what was right.
There was a day when I made some of these same mistakes. I was driving home and getting so angry with myself. What was my problem? I knew better. I truly knew that my mistakes were not going to lead me anywhere pleasant. I knew. But still I would give in to those same flaws. I was angry with myself because I wanted to be over all of it. Despite all the anger, the car suddenly felt very thick with peace. It stunned me a little, and the anger dissipated. I sat with the unexplainable peace for a bit before turning to the Lord to ask Him what the heck was happening. I had just sinned again. Why was I feeling the Spirit?
I didn’t hear any words, but I did feel a message. I knew the Lord was telling me that guilt and anger and pain were not sufficient motivators to become better. Surely they can give us a “check engine” light and alert us when something is wrong, but they aren’t not independently capable of making us want to repent. I knew the Lord wanted me to repent; He wanted me to heal. Guilt and pain are never His destinations; sometimes they are tools, but His end-all is never suffering. He is going to help us take the process that leads to healing.
If I had tried repenting in the way I thought I was supposed to, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to become better. We have to change our perspective to match the Lord’s. Instead of beating ourselves up, we need to recognize our sin and then ask the question, “How do I heal from this?” Your path towards repentance and forgiveness may look very different than how you’ve been treating yourself.
His perspective should be reflected in us
Sin is sickness. Repentance is a healing of that sickness and the associated injury. Is that reflected in how we approach our repentance process? Is that reflected in how we approach others who are also trying to repent? If we’re trying to become like the Savior, we probably need to approach repentance in the same way that He does. We need to let the principle, “Repentance is healing,” move past our logical brain and let it seep into our hearts.
Perhaps you are not in this stage of life yet or perhaps you’re past it or perhaps it’s not a situation you will ever have to face. But I use a big example so that we can pull the principles out and apply them to every situation, even the tiny ones.
Your teenage daughter comes to you. She has made some choices and finds herself pregnant and alone. She asks you for help.
Some knee-jerk reactions may be to worry about what the ward is going to say or how it’s going to affect you. You may start to worry that she will never be able to rebound from it, that it will affect her education and future family. Or perhaps your knee jerk reaction is to hug her and let her know you love her no matter what. However, later on, perhaps those fears regarding her and her long-term happiness start to creep in.
Whether that fear comes at the very beginning or as time goes on, it can have a negative effect on how we approach the situation. It can push us to point out everything that might happen to her because she got herself into the situation. Fear can push us to be angry. It can push us to more forcefully push home the hard lessons that she’s likely already learning. Fear disallows us from focusing on the most important things.
I think sometimes we are afraid that if we don’t get angry (even after they’re repenting), then they will just go and make the same mistake again. We equate the level of anger with the level of gravity surrounding the mistake. If we are angry, it means we are serious about it. But there comes a point when that anger will probably produce the opposite effect: they will no longer want to repent. Repentance becomes a scary and embarrassing process. Repentance no longer means healing; it means further scarring (which isn’t actually repentance!).
Instead, if we have true repentance adequately seeped into our heart, we ask, “How do I help my daughter heal from the pain that comes from this situation?” That answer will likely include clarity, truth, support, free agency, and love. There is no one right way to approach the repentance process, but the principle of healing needs to guide our actions.
Let the healing process begin. Sin leaves its own mark; don’t feel like you have to make it deeper so that they won’t do it again. Don’t feel like you have to make it deeper so that you won’t do it again.
Sometimes true repentance does call for a strong hand
In the same breath, sometimes a more stern approach is warranted and helpful.
Now my son isn’t actually old enough to sin, but the principle remains. My son likes to go out the front door. He is tall enough to unlock it, and we’re renting a house so I can’t add additional locks. My son is also nearly impossible to correct. No matter how I try to help him do better, he laughs and laughs and laughs. I tell him not to open the door or I put him in time out. I get his dad involved (sometimes that works). But he kept opening the door. I finally got on the floor, put my hands on his shoulders, and got in his face. I told him that what he was doing was dangerous and still he laughed. I finally took the ends of his mouth in my thumbs and pushed them into a frown and repeated how dangerous it was for him to ignore my warnings. He finally got the message and stopped laughing. He also stopped opening the front door when I wasn’t looking.
The Pharisees and scribes approached Christ and scornfully questioned His choice to sit with sinners. It’s ironic because they also should have been sitting with Him, repenting and healing, but they refused. I believe this is why the Pharisees and scribes often received a stronger hand from Christ than others like the woman taken in adultery. Christ was always guided by what was going to be the most helpful for those around Him. What would help them repent, return, and heal?
How do we help ourselves and others be happy and safe and healed? Sometimes the answer to that question can look like many different things. But no matter what, allowing that principle to guide our choices can help us make the best decisions about how to proceed. Drowning out fear and focusing on the well-being of ourselves and those in our care can help us make the best decisions on the path of repentance. Focusing on the healing, in whatever shape it warrants, is what will help repentance truly occur.
The Savior wants to heal us. He already paid for that healing; allow Him to pay for it.