12 July 2016
We’re familiar with Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, “soon to be destroyed for its lack of faith.” He loved Jerusalem, as a parent loves a child, as a shepherd loves his flock. But he also loved other towns, other places: Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum. And he cried over them, too: “Woe to you,” we hear him say—not as a judgment against them, but as an expression of his own grief and sorrow.
In Greek, the word we translate as “woe” is “ouai” [ooh-EYE]. “Ouai! to you, Chorazin; Ouai! to you Bethsaida! Ouai!” The word itself sounds like a cry, like someone moaning in sorrow. “Ouai!” Jesus said to those towns; not for lack of faith, but for their lack of repentance. “To repent” means, literally, to “change your mind,” to “change your heart.” That’s why Jesus did what he did, and proclaimed what he proclaimed—so that people would have a real change of heart. And woe, “ouai,” to those who refused to change in mind and heart.
At the end of the Our Father, we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Here, we’re asking God to “keep us safe” in the day of judgment; to “deliver us from” the evil of separation from him. And from Isaiah we heard: “Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm.” For people who haven’t “repented”—who haven’t deeply and seriously followed Christ in faith—for them the day of judgment will be a bad day . . . because they chose not to believe in God’s mercy. Is it any wonder that Jesus cries, “Woe to you; Ouai!”
When someone we love makes a poor decision in life, and they have to live with that decision, what else can we do but feel sorry for them. Life isn’t a “done deal;” we can always change our mind and heart. It’s never too late. That’s part of the “good news” of our Lord Jesus. The other part of the “good news” is that he’s always, always overjoyed to have us back in his flock—no matter what we’ve done in the past, no matter how weak our faith has been in the past.
How is our faith . . . today? How strong is our hope? How much do we have love in our hearts for God? My guess is that—even if it’s good—it can always be better. And the Lord smiles on us whenever we try to be better; whenever we try to follow him and his ways more closely.
All that Jesus does for us, he does so that we can have a change of mind and heart. Woe to those who are stubborn and hard-hearted. But blessings and peace to those who say, “Here I am, Lord; I trust in you.”