Metanoia, Christ Church NC, 2018.

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Jesus said to [Simon and Andrew],“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.  Mark 1:17-18.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Metanoia is a Greek word, μετάνοια, a word which is not used on a daily basis but is reserved for very special occasions. It has several meanings, but the one I’m thinking of is strictly Christian. It means, for me, a fundamental change for the better in thinking, leading to a fundamental change in behavior and consequently living in a radically improved way. Look at all three readings today. Firstly we have the “enormously large” city of Nineveh where “Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.” Then the second reading states “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning….” And finally the gospel describing Simon (Peter) and Andrew encountering Jesus, hearing his message, and immediately dropping their livelihood equipment as fishermen and following the Lord. These are all metanoia moments of topsy-turvy change which would dazzle anybody. The word metanoia comes from a root word meaning repentance, so it could be said that what had been left behind was inferior, and perhaps not worthy of us (it is much better explained here). Therefore it was conversion from an inferior state to a superior state. This means for me to become a better me, and you to become a better you. Easy? I don’t think so. Yet Jesus’ words today, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” are the first words he speaks in Mark’s gospel, which is the oldest of the four gospels, and presumably closest to the events mentioned. Also, the word “repent” is really a poor translation of metanoia, which is the original Greek word in Scripture, μετανοεῖτε, here in the imperative: Jesus is instructing us, calling us, ordering us, to metanoia, today as clearly and forcefully as he called Simon, Andrew and James back then! It is a clear invitation to step back, evaluate what and where and who we are, and make a judgment in the light of his teaching and example. That being so, and being a follower of the Lord, we should all take a deep breath and begin to ponder the Lord’s instruction today. Am I being the best I can be? Am I living the life which would please the Lord? Do I follow the precepts as laid out in the Good News, the Gospel? Do I love God, my neighbor and myself in the manner Jesus wishes us? Is metanoia called for? And it is important to know that metanoia does not necessarily suggest that we have done something wrong, as our English word repent does. Simon and Andrew were fishermen, an honorable occupation, nothing whatever to be ashamed of. Yet they clearly realized that Jesus was calling them to something greater, and they obeyed. Am I, are you, being called to something greater? That is today’s message. This could mean many things: greater generosity towards the sick and the poor, helping out a neighbor in trouble, attempting to heal a family rift, responding to a church appeal for some great need, and so on. Depending on our situation, this could mean anything from a small adjustment to a Scrooge-like metamorphosis! But today’s gospel, remembering that today is Word of God Sunday, is a clear call to self-reflection which must lead to action. Remember that Jesus never calls us to more than we can manage; let us simply ask for insight, clarity and strength to react appropriately. 

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