Metanoia – a new way of seeing
based on Matthew 3:13-17 and Isaiah 42:1-9
You all know some version of Jesus’ baptism. It’s told a little differently in each gospel, but it is in all four gospels, whereas the story of Jesus birth is only told in two. I wonder what our faith would look like if we spent as much energy on Jesus’ baptism as we do on the stories of his birth.
John the baptizer felt God was calling him to tell people to repent and be cleansed, and for generations since we’ve had a particular understanding of the English word `repent’. You may have the image of John in the river, or any number of hell-fire preachers thumping the pulpit and yelling at folks to repent.
But… what if we’ve been misled. Some tidbits from the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum … In Greek the word is metanoia. Rather than meaning “feeling sorry for doing bad things,” or regret, or confession, metanoia means “go beyond the mind” or “go into the larger mind.”
Scholar Cynthia Bourgeault writes that this `high teaching’ was Jesus’ central message: “the Kingdom of Heaven means reaching beyond black-and-white dualities, into the larger heart and mind of God.”
What a different perspective this opens on a familiar Christian word. Rather than “Change your bad ways!” we now hear “Look! Look! God is inviting you to a new way of seeing! Come into the larger mind, see how God sees!” To “go beyond the mind” or “go into the larger mind” is no easy task, but it can be much more life-giving than being told you’re an awful sinner, or `a brood of vipers’, as John liked to say to the Pharisees.
Matthew’s gospel has Jesus saying to John, “Let’s do this to fulfill all righteousness”, and because of that John agreed. Personally, I think that Jesus didn’t really care a fig about what others saw as `righteousness.’ In his ministry he was always choosing compassion over righteousness. Here, at the river, with the ministry of John, he commits himself to dying and rising – preparing his body as well as mind and spirit to live out radical love.
I had a hard time finding music to go with Jesus’ baptism, as most indicate that Jesus was baptised in order to take on the sins of the world, to appease an angry God. However, Jesus ministry shows that God’s mind doesn’t have to be changed about humanity; God’s anger doesn’t have to be appeased. Jesus ministry is to change the hearts and minds of people, encouraging them to open and compassionate, as God is compassion.
Through the universal symbol of water, Jesus models his invitation for all to move from unconsciousness (for which water is an archetype) to consciousness – a deeper awareness of just how deeply loved we are by a good and gracious God.
So where do we fit in to all of this? Let’s go back to the passage from Isaiah 42. Here we have the beautiful image of the servant of God, the one who is a light to the nations, one who will not abuse the vulnerable, one who will help people out of their inner darkness, free them from what is controlling their lives. Back to Metanoia – seeing with the heart and mind of God. We may see this as a foreshadowing of Jesus, but it’s not fair to dump all the responsibility for this way of being on him.
Isaiah often calls Israel the servant. Israel in this context is not an individual, but a community, a community of faith. How close are we, as Christians today, living out that kind of faith?
Richard Rohr, an American Catholic priest and author writes:
“Our religion is not working well. Another year has ended—a new year begins—in which suffering, fear, violence, injustice, greed, and meaninglessness still abound. This is not even close to the reign of God that Jesus taught. And we must be frank: in their behavior and impact upon the world, Christians are not much different than other people.
The majority of Christians are not highly transformed people, but tend to reflect their own culture more than they operate as any kind of leaven within it. I speak especially of American Christians, because I am one. But if you are from another country, look at the Christians where you live and see if the same is true there.
Let’s be honest: religion has probably never had such a bad name. Christianity is now seen as “irrelevant” by many and often as part of the problem more than any kind of solution. Some of us are almost embarrassed to say we are Christian because of the negative images that word conjures in others’ minds. Young people especially are turned off by how judgmental, exclusionary, impractical, and ineffective Christian culture seems to be. The church seems hostile toward most science (the objective outer world) and thus unable to talk about its inner dimensions with any authority. As we saw in the recent U.S. election, Christians overall showed little prophetic or compassionate presence.
Most Christians have not been taught how to plug into the “mind of Christ;” thus they often reflect the common mind of power, greed, and war instead. The dualistic mind reads reality in simple binaries—good and bad, right and wrong—and thinks itself smart because it chooses one side. This is getting us nowhere.
Throughout the history of Christianity, it would seem Jesus’ teaching has had little impact, except among people who surrendered to great love and great suffering. Could this be the real core of the Gospel? Such people experience God rather than merely having disconnected ideas about God. We need the mind of mystics now to offer any kind of alternative—contemplative or nondual—consciousness. We need practice-based religion that teaches us how to connect with the Infinite in ways that actually change us from our finite perspectives.
We must rediscover what St. Francis called the “marrow of the Gospel.” It’s time to rebuild from the bottom up. If the foundation is not solid and sure, everything we try to build on top of it is weak and ineffective. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that so much is tumbling down around us. It’s time to begin again.”
On this day, when we celebrate Jesus taking the plunge, as it were, we also have the opportunity to step into the water beside him, to let go of all the unconscious garbage that drags us down, and open to the Spirit of God, who comes to bless us with these words, “You are my beloved Child with whom I am well pleased.”
If you would like to join Jesus at the river, I invite you to come forward and receive a `sprinkle’ of the waters of baptism, a symbol of your desire to walk in faith, to see the world with the mind and heart of God.
- most people came forward for a sprinkling of water.
- During the theme conversation, I used `godly play’ and put John and Jesus in the baptismal font – a lovely shallow bowl on a low table. When we started to sing the next hymn, Georgia, age 2 years, toddled back up to the front and put all the other characters in the font too. 🙂