“Prostitutes and IRS Employees are Entering Heaven Before You”: Jesus, say what?

“Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the Kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”
Matthew 28:31-32

How dare the Lord say that! Everybody knows that prostitutes and tax collectors don’t go to heaven….they’re heathens! The lowest of the low and, verily, the scum of the earth! Certainly this “Lord” is out of his mind.

When John the Baptist came preaching, dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, eating wild locusts and honey,

alan-hangover2
Probably the modern John the Bapstist?

probably not many people were all that inclined to listen to him. His message of “repent!” as he proclaimed the nearness of the Kingdom of God probably sounded like just another Messianic prophecy. Or, perhaps they were turned off by or disinterested in what they heard. The word “repent” meant something far different to the ancient Jews than it does to us.

When we hear “REPENT REPENT REPENT OR YOU’LL BURN BURN BURN” from angry sidewalk preachers, we tend to associate “repent” with images of the rapture and the punishment of that evil God guy. But really “repent” is a much more simple than that. There a couple of Hebrew words whose English translation is “repent”. The first is nahub, which means “to lament or grieve”, particularly over sin. Another is shub, which refers to a radical change of the mind and heart away from sin and toward God. The Greek word metanoeo is relevant, as it describes a radical change from the “idols of sin” and toward God.

So “repent” should not scare us into thinking of the end of the world or of burning forever in hell, but simply of amending our lives (LOL real simple, right?). John the Baptist exhorts his listeners to change their ways and turn back to the God whom they offend with their sins; God is a God of tender love and mercy and is always waiting for us to turn back to him.

John the Baptist called his listeners to “the way of righteousness” but the people didn’t listen. But who did hear? The tax collectors and prostitutes; they heard the message, they saw the sin in their lives and repented. Sometimes we think that sin is only “the big stuff” like adultery and murder, but there are a lot of little sins that can eat away at us and turn into big things. These little sins won’t, in themselves, send us to hell, but they do chip away at the charity in our hearts and prevent us from hearing the voice of God and of the people he sends to us.

It’s almost Christmas, but there’s still a lot of time left. Take some time to examine the little ways you are hurting, those seemingly little moments of loneliness, of anger, of sadness, of bitterness, of pain and give them over to Jesus and Mary. If our pain festers, it becomes toxic to ourselves and others; loneliness can become despair or sloth, anger can become malice, sadness can become self-pity or lead to us shutting others out, bitterness can become a grudge or envy or greed…and then it’s a small snowball-turned-avalanche in your soul.

As Christmas approaches, give yourself to Jesus again and again; tell him your trouble, tell him your pain, and say, “Jesus come into this; come into the world, come into my heart; transform me with your love.”

Come, Lord Jesus.