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home : opinion : word of faith

9/25/2014 9:01:00 AM
WORD OF FAITH
We all must convert
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN


FROM A READING FOR SEPT. 28, 26TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'In humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.' - Philippians 2:3-4

Growing up Catholic, I thought I had no need to convert. I believed that, in order to get into heaven, all I had to do was to keep on doing what I had already been doing all my life - just doing it a little more intently as I got older.

Then I began studying Scripture.

I initially discovered that rarely did our sacred authors concern themselves with getting into heaven. They, like Mark's Jesus in chapter 10, presumed that if we followed the commandments and kept our moral noses clean, we'd one day inherit "eternal life."

These inspired writers were primarily concerned with helping us live a fulfilled life right here and now. From their own experiences, they were convinced that to pull that off, we'd have to commit ourselves to frequent "conversions."

Of course, as Ezekiel (18:25-28) points out, conversions can go both ways. One can certainly turn from evil to good; the reverse is also possible. According to this sixth-century-BC prophet's no-afterlife theology, whether we live a long, fulfilled life or a short, frustrating life is determined by the choices for good or bad which we make during that life. Though it might not seem "fair" to some, God always permits us to change direction.

Jesus the slave
Encouraging his Christian community in Philippi to change their value systems and begin to "regard others as more important than yourselves," Paul (Phil 2:1-11) reminds them of the most important conversion in their history of salvation: that of Jesus of Nazareth.

No wonder the second half of this passage is always read on Palm Sunday, the day on which we remember Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, an event which has dire consequences. Because of a specific conversion at one point in His life, this Galilean carpenter will have only five more days to live.

Whether it was a conversion traditionally understood as Jesus leaving His divinity behind and becoming human, or (as recently been interpreted by some) His refusing to fall back on being made, as all humans, in God's image and likeness and instead identifying with slaves, the lowest of people, it certainly brought about a drastic change in the direction of His existence.

If one follows the latter interpretation, Paul sees that conversion to becoming one with the least of us as a triggering device: "Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name [Yahweh] which is above every name." Conversions always come with consequences.

We must change
Jesus agrees with Ezekiel: It's never too late to convert. Though His Gospel example of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) is easy to remember, it makes a point some of us don't like to admit: We're never tied down to our past choices. The risen Jesus always expects and empowers us to change.

We can't excuse our lack of conversion to things which happened years ago: "Because of that, I'm now this way." It's invaluable to know why we are "this way," but that can never be an excuse for our continuing to be this way. If "tax collectors and prostitutes" can change their life's direction, why can't we?

The question is, "Convert to what?" Matthew's Jesus speaks about righteousness: the biblical way of describing the correct way of relating to God and those around us. Paul referred to those relationships as "emptying ourselves" enough to become one with those others, to imitate the risen Jesus who, as he reminded the Galatians, is neither Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.

We've only just begun to convert.





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