Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Daniel 9:1-14.
Sometimes, our repentance has more impact than we know. As I read the passage in Daniel, I remembered three things.
- Repentance is not just a ‘spiritual’ action, if by spiritual we mean individualistic, apolitical, and totally subjective. Repentance (choosing God’s agenda over our own) happens not just in our daily lives but in much wider social contexts. Daniel mentions his own: “the first year of Darius…a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans.” Most Israelites (at least if they are of the upper class) are not living on their home soil anymore, but under the thumb of a dangerous Empire. How is the people of God going to admit their complicity in the situation and nevertheless experience God’s forgiveness and compassion?
- Wise individuals have a role to play in representing the community before God, and also calling the community to repentance. Daniel was the one who discerned that it time for God to act, but he didn’t distance himself from his people, their trials, or their sins–even though they were under judgement. He gets on his face and uses “we” language over and over. What does this look and sound like in 2018? Where and who are the prophets and sages who intercede for the people of God and do not deny complicity in the messy injustices of our current political and church climates? As Cindy Jacobs, a pentecostal teacher, says, “Not all intercessors are prophets, but all prophets are intercessors.”
- Though it isn’t in the reading, according to the book of Daniel, the repentance of the people and God’s action of restoration are worked out in the context of what many Christians would call spiritual warfare. It is easy, in the West, to think that injustices and blessings are only systemic, and thus, in some sense, only human. But I don’t think this is what the Scriptures teach. There is a realm of agency surrounding the human and biological that Christian tradition calls the angelic–and not all angelic forces are on God’s side. In Daniel, it’s almost as though the angelic force of the next political regime in the region has an impact on what Daniel, Israel, and God are able to do now! (Of course, if Daniel was written in the era of Roman occupation, the point still remains that the negative angelic weight being brought to bear on the situation is immense and dangerous.) When we truly receive the call to repent, we will often find that forces we barely understand make it a long and difficult road. As retired pastor Eugene Peterson writes, repentance, especially in the face of political and angelic principalities and powers, is “a long obedience in the same direction,” — and the direction is the heart of God made known in and as Jesus by the power of the Spirit. Only a people committed to deep love of the Trinity, and all that entails, will have the wherewithal to do effective living in the midst of spiritual battle.