Jesus’ story is not a religious story about trying harder to get it all right. In fact, the entire narrative of the Bible is about how we can’t get everything right on our own. The Apostle Paul says in fact that the laws of the Bible were given, in part, to reveal this to us: we can’t get it all right. (Yes, he actually says this! See Romans 5-8.) And when Jesus says, “be perfect,” he’s not throwing us onto the hamster wheel of performance and will power. He’s provoking us into the cycle of trying to transform our hearts into something we deem acceptable only to discover that we will never succeed.
Of course, we may be able to curb our behavior—and so we should—the sort of repentance we are talking about often comes after we have exhausted all the resources of our will power, and the paradox is that we should and must employ our will power as we seek transformation. Still, the deeper, unsorted parts of our heart are never straightened out by will power alone. In fact, the way we become “perfect” is by accepting this reality! Until you believe this and accept it, you’ll always be resisting grace, even if you are proclaiming it.
Furthermore, to be a sinner, according to the scripture, does not mean “to be a person who has done bad things that they need to confess” so that they can try to do better. Yes, we confess what we’ve missed, of course. Tremendous energy for transformation is released when we do this sincerely. We also curb our behavior and try to do better, which really just means seeking to do well, with good intentions. However, it must go further, for confession and repentance and being a sinner is not just a doing thing, it’s a being thing. When we repent and confess as sinners, we are confessing that we will never be complete on our own, and that we will never get it all right!
The good news is that Jesus was never looking for this from us, anyway. He is way more interested in communion than he is in our competence. On that long walk (see Transformation I), as I was in the midst of berating myself, the strangest image floated into my mind: I saw a Facebook page and the infamous words, “It’s Complicated.” I think somehow the Holy Spirit must have dropped this thought into my mind, as suddenly I was confessing, “Jesus, my heart is complicated. I’m complicated. And I just have to bring to you all these things about myself I don’t like, because I’m drowning in focusing on them and trying to hide them.” Suddenly, I felt two things I had not felt all day: relief and joy. I experienced, not as concept but as reality, that Jesus is way more interested in being with me than he is in judging the parts of me I deem unsorted. He sees through all that, anyway, to the true self he created and loves. I can only see that when I befriend my weaknesses and stop hating them.
Questions for Reflection and Response
Where in your life do you struggle to believe that God could adopt you even when you are still so unsorted?
What is it about your life that you most believe disqualifies you?
If you identify that thing, good work! Now, can you take it a step further?
Give thanks for that thing. Not because you like it or because you want it to stay as it is, but because it’s an opportunity to celebrate that God still says “yes” over you, even while you’re unsorted.