Changing Your Mind (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

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As some of you may remember, last September I decided to visit the Atlantic Provinces in Canada.  I had never been to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to visit.  This was especially the case because I was then doggie-less, and visiting Newfoundland required an 8 hour ride on a very doggie-unfriendly ferry.

All went pretty well for a while, and I got onto Newfoundland and visited the remains of the 10th century Viking settlement on the very northern tip of Newfoundland.  It was a really interesting place, but that same day the Hurricane center predicted that Hurricane Fiona was going to make a direct hit on the Atlantic provinces, and my return ferry got canceled. The hurricane wasn’t bad where I was on Newfoundland and I managed to get on a ferry only 12 hours after I had originally planned to return.  But by that point, 90% of the power was out on Prince Edward Island, and 75% was out in Nova Scotia, so there was no point in continuing the trip.  I headed home and scrapped the last part.

So this September, Phoenix offered to help me finish the trip!  I created another trip plan that incorporated many of the things I had missed doing last year.  And I added a few things that I knew would be particularly doggie appropriate, like checking out dog friendly beaches on Prince Edward Island.  And mercifully, we didn’t need to travel on anymore ferries, which was particularly good since our trip this year was also bookended by hurricanes and tropical storms!

Now normally, I am very committed to doing all the things I’ve planned to do on my schedule.  I’ve thought hard about what I have time to do; I’ve researched the places I’m going; and I’m often excited about what I hope to see and do. 

And yet, there were times, particularly on this trip, where I changed my mind in the middle of the trip.  Often, that was because I had Phoenix along with me.  Despite all the planning I had done, I sometimes realized it would be better to do something else.

One of those times was on Prince Edward Island.  They are famous there for Lobster suppers, and one of the places I wanted to go was one of the several “Lobster Supper Restaurants” where they not only bring you out a huge lobster, but also make buffets of rolls, mussels, soups and desserts available to you.  There are several of these places on PEI, but I realized that all of them would mean I’d need to leave Phoenix in the car or at the hotel while I went alone.

And as I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that I’d much rather have Phoenix with me than eat lobster without him.  So we found a great dockside restaurant where we could sit outside.  We had a great lobster supper, which did include plenty of other food (they even had a doggie menu); and there was a great harbor walk for us to take together after dinner.  It was a great experience for both of us, and I’m glad I changed my mind. 

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus also talks about changing your mind.  Actually, the verb Matthew uses to record what Jesus says is “metanoia”, which does literally mean “to change your mind”.  But often, this word is translated as “repent.”  Both of those are good translations, but both can be problematic in English. 

“Repent”, of course, is not a word we often use in daily life.  And if we do hear it outside of the Bible, it’s generally full of judgement and used in the context of a lot of pious drivel.

But “change your mind” can also be a bit misleading, because it often sounds like a purely intellectual exercise, where we simply substitute one idea for another.  But the Greek word for “change your mind” means more than that.

And Jesus illustrates this with a short and simply parable about two sons who are asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard. The first says he won’t.  But later, he “changes his mind”.  What does that really mean?

For the first son, “changing his mind” wasn’t simply an intellectual substitution of one idea over another.  Instead, “changing his mind” meant that the first son:

  • Considered the situation in the vineyard, and how it might be different than just a short time ago.  After all, if it’s harvest time and you don’t go right now, you miss out on the benefits of whole year’s worth of work.  Maybe things had changed from the way they were the last time he really took a hard look around?  When I was planning my trip, I knew I’d have Phoenix along.  But I changed my mind about where we’d eat because having him along changed the situation from the way it was when I was planning my trip alone…
  • Valued the relationship with his father more than the difficulty of the work.  I think it’s a mistake to ever read this parable and imagine that the son suddenly decided, “Hey, I really think I’d enjoy the difficulty or irritation of spending a day in the vineyard!”  He won’t.  But he loves his father more than he hates the work, and so he changes his mind.  There were several times on my trip that I did things that, honestly, I wasn’t that interested in doing.  But I so enjoyed watching Phoenix enjoy himself, that I changed my mind about what we’d do…
  • Actually lived differently because of his change of mind.  This is the real reason “change your mind” sometimes lacks meaning for us.  It can simply be an intellectual exercise.  But because the first son changes his mind, he lives differently.  He may not even have announced to his father that he changed his mind. Instead, he simply started doing something else.  And often, it’s by living differently that new things are possible for you and for others.  And this is the kind of “changing your mind” that Jesus is inviting people into – a change that makes a difference for others…

“Changing your mind” means more than substituting one idea for another.  But it’s also important not to read this parable as a great smack-down of Jesus’ opponents.  Jesus didn’t tell this parable, and Matthew didn’t record it, so that we could be entertained by Jesus telling off his opponents.  Instead, this parable is for us, too.  And it’s important for us because God is always calling us to consider when we might also need to change our mind so that we can live into the new things God is doing in our lives.

And sometimes, for us, that also means:

  • Considering how things are different than the way they were perhaps only a short time ago; and this means more than bemoaning the stuff we don’t like, as the chief priests and the elders did when they saw Jesus developing a different kind of community, and as we sometimes do when we bemoan how things are different after Covid, or how mean and polarized our society seems to have become; instead of just looking at the stuff you don’t like, sometimes, “changing your mind” means actively looking for the good things that are happening in the midst of bad stuff, and considering new opportunities that might not have been there even last year…
  • Re-evaluating what really matters, and who matters in our lives.  This is what Jesus was calling people to do when he asked them to re-evaluate what God was worth to them in their lives, and to consider the value of people that they maybe didn’t consider valuable before.  And for us, sometimes this means asking what matters enough to put time, effort and money into.  What used to matter, that maybe doesn’t so much anymore?  And how might God be calling me to “change my mind” by re-evaluating who and what is most important…?
  • Actively living in a new way.  The hard part for many of the people Jesus spoke to wasn’t grasping a different idea.  It was actually changing how they lived with others.  This is what makes things like diet and exercise routines so hard for so many of us.  We understand the need.  We sometimes even feel the need.  But actually doing it is hard.  Yet for us, too, living differently is key to changing our minds and living more fully into the kingdom of God that Jesus is bringing about in our lives. And for us, sometimes changing our minds is done by small acts of practicing kindness and generosity and forgiveness each day…

“Changing your mind” is more than just substituting one idea for another.  And it’s harder than simply modifying your trip itinerary.   But it’s what Jesus calls all of us to each day.

It’s often hard to do.  But each day we get another chance.  And often, we live into that opportunity by looking more closely for new opportunities that God is giving us.  We live into that opportunity by re-evaluating what and who matters most.  And we live into that opportunity by regularly practicing the kinds of behaviors that make the kingdom of God a reality not just in our lives, but in the lives of others.