CLERGY CORNER: Tragedy: A Call to Metanoia

Posted on 19 October 2017 by LeslieM

Dear Readers:

I write this article with a heavy heart in the wake of the senseless act of violence in Las Vegas. First and foremost, I grieve for the victims and grieve with their families and friends. The whole nation feels the pain and suffering, and it is my prayer that we stand united against violence and work together to prevent an act of this nature from happening again.

I also bear the responsibility of a religious leader who must respond to this act with words of healing and hope. I do not want to repeat the offenses of irresponsible religious leaders who seized the opportunity to grandstand or, worse, blame the victims for their demise. And considering the foolish responses of some, it is tempting to remain silent. Alas, silence is not an option.

After prayerful reflection, I went to scripture. How did Jesus respond to senseless acts of violence or random tragedies? The answer is in Luke 13: 1-5. Jesus was speaking to a crowd that had two tragedies on their mind as Jesus was speaking. One was an act of violence committed by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers against Galilean worshippers. While the historical details are fuzzy, the one thing we know is innocent Galileans were killed by Roman soldiers under the command of Pontius Pilate. This was a senseless act of violence.

The other event was a random event that probably was the result of faulty architecture. The Tower of Siloam collapsed and innocent people were crushed. Again, the people in the crowd wanted to make sense of this random occurrence.

Picking up on the buzz, perhaps even overhearing the conversations of the people, the question arose: “Did these victims do something to bring on the wrath of God?” Jesus gave two answers.

The first answer was “No.” In other words, these bystanders were indeed innocent. God did not punish them. The Romans were clearly the ones to blame for the senseless killing of the Galileans. And who knows who was to blame for the collapse of the Tower. One can only speculate; but it wasn’t God. That much was clear.

The second answer was “However.” The words that followed the “however” did not negate the first answer. However, they may be words that do not sound good to the ears when we hear them in our English translation: “Unless you repent, you will perish as they did.”

I think it is the word “repent” that gives me pause. The word “repent” conjures up images of self-righteous, sanctimonious, judgmental preachers pointing their fingers and frowning at the sinner. Shame-based motivation not only exposes the hypocrisy of the one who uses it, but also just plain doesn’t work. I certainly don’t want that image to remain on our minds, especially at the wake of a tragedy.

So I go to Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, and come across a word that is much, much better than the English translation. That word is “Metanoia.” Metanoia simply means “to change one’s mind.” The prefix “meta,” which means change, is found in words like “metamorphous” or “to change form.” That word makes me think of butterflies. Butterflies are a much better image in the wake of a tragedy.

So, coming back from the Greek to the English, I can say these words that truly are helpful in the wake of a tragedy. “Unless we learn from this experience, or ‘change our mind,’ we will be doomed to repeat it.” If a tragedy of this nature comes and goes, and we don’t learn from it, then we really are in trouble. This is just common wisdom.

If Jesus is telling us anything, it is this: “Learn from this.” It is my prayer that people of authority can set aside their differences and work for common solution that will keep us safe. That is my prayer.

There are many more things to be learned from this experience that can benefit us right now. I will tell you a few things that I have learned, not only from this tragedy, but the ones that have preceded this (which is an unfortunately a long list).

First, love. Tell the people in your life that you love them. Love your family, your friends and neighbors. Love your enemies too. Love is hard work, but it is worth it.

Second, forgive. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:6). It is not worth it to hold on to a grudge. If you think a grudge is heavy, try a missed opportunity to forgive.

Third, embrace life. Life is a gift from God. Let us never take this gift for granted. Whatever your religious persuasion may be, I think we can all benefit from love, forgiveness and treating life as a gift.

May God heal us and change us for the better.

Pastor Gross is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-421-3146 or visit www.zion-lutheran.org.

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