Monday, March 19 (O.S., March 6), 2018: Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent; 42 Martyrs of Ammoria in Phrygia († c. 845): Theodore, Constantine, Aetius, Theophilus, Basoes, Callistus, and others; ; Hieromartyr Conon and his son Conon of Iconium († 270-275); Venerable Arcadius of Cyprus (4th C); Venerable Abraham of Bulgaria; Holy Hierarchs Evagrius the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople; Holy Hierarch Taranius, Bishop of Antioch; Venerable Fridolinus, Abbot of Sakingena; Martyr Gregorisus; Venerable Job, in Schema Joshua, of Anzer († 1720); Finding of the Precious Cross and the Precious Nails by the Holy Empress Helen in Jerusalem (326); Icons of the Mother of God: “Chenstokhov” (1st C), “Blessed Heaven” (14th C) and “Shestokovskoy” (18th C).
Reading the passage from Isaiah quickly, we might overlook the fact that–in both cases–God is merciful. Both kings suffer. The King of Assyria is defeated in battle, Hezekiah suffers a debilitating and–but for God’s intervention–fatal disease. The difference in outcomes between the two rulers is straightforward. Hezekiah repents, the Assyrian king doesn’t.
Repentance requires more than I’m sorry for my sins. This, after all, can be motivated as much by being disappointed with myself as easily as it can an awareness that I’ve strayed from God’s will. Often the sorrow I feel is more the former than the latter.
While sorrow is the opening moment of repentance, in the full sense I need to move past my distress. Repentance requires not bad feelings but a change of heart (metanoia). Not grief for my failure, but obedience to the will of God.
We have an example of obedience in Abraham.
God promises the patriarch that He will give him “the land of Canaan.” Abram (as Abraham is still called), we receive from God all the land he can see from where he stands. “Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants forever.”
To this promise, God adds that Abram’s descendants as numerous “as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted.”
At God’s command, Abram walks “the length and breadth of the land.” Eventually, he comes to “the oaks of Mamre” pitches his tent and worships God.
The metanoia God seeks from me isn’t simply sorrow for my sin, it isn’t even obedience. What God seeks from me is my willingness to still myself and, like Abram, worship Him.
Material wealth, political power and military prowess, these are celebrated by the Old Testament as God’s blessings. The coming of Christ doesn’t undo any of this or any of the other blessings God bestows on His Israel.
What Christ does, is make available to us the wisdom without which material and social blessings become traps. As Solomon says
The wicked is overthrown through his evil-doing, but the righteous finds refuge through his integrity. Wisdom abides in the mind of a man of understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
It isn’t that the King of Assyria was a sinner and Hezekiah wasn’t. It isn’t that one man regretted and the other didn’t. It is rather that, like Abram, one man worshipped God and made God’s will his own.
Without the wisdom that comes from the “fear of the LORD” the blessings God give us remain fallow. Separated from a living awareness of God’s gifts as exactly that, His gifts to me, I begin to think of God’s blessings as my own achievements.
As gratitude withers, prides grows until “passion makes the bones rot.” and I become the man who “oppresses the poor” and “insults God.”
But Christians who reject or minimize material and social blessings are equally misguided. These are given to us so that we can share in God’s redemptive work. Like the man who uses them for his own selfish ends, the Christian who turns his back of these blessings–or condemns those to whom God has given them–and becomes one “who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker.”