A Pastor friend of mine charges every couple he marries to remember what he calls, “The Six Most Important Words.” He reminds the couple that these six words can save a relationship. The six words are… “I am sorry, I was wrong!” When in your recent past, have YOU said them? (Did they ever get stuck in your throat on the way to your lips?) When has someone said them to you? These words can mark the turning point in a relationship. Everyone needs to learn how to say them…parents, children, Doctors, Pastors…even Presidents.
Former President, Bill Clinton, attended a wedding that my friend performed and complimented him on his wedding homily. The former President mentioned that he had to say these words many times in the White House…and afterwards…and saying them has been essential for his personal growth as a human being.
Admitting our sin to God, ourselves and to others is the first step on our journey of faith. Recognizing that we have wandered off the path God wants us to walk, and recognizing that we need to make a U-Turn is called repentance. Repentance begins when we can say these six words and truly mean them…I am sorry, I was wrong!
This Lenten season, I am thoroughly enjoying the spiritual practice of reading one chapter of the gospel of Luke or John each day in The Message, by Eugene Peterson. As we consider this theme of repentance, I urge you to read the familiar story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:10). I love Peterson’s writing and the way that he words these familiar stories in such a fresh way that they come to life. You all know the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho who was in a position of authority and privilege without accountability. That’s a dangerous place to be. As long as he paid the Roman government the amount they required, he could charge the people any amount he wanted…and keep the rest for his own tax collectors and himself. This wealthy tax collector was lonely and isolated…another dangerous place to be.
I wonder if that is why Zacchaeus climbed that sycamore tree to see Jesus. I wonder if he knew that Jesus had selected Matthew, a tax collector, as one of his 12 disciples. My gut instinct tells me that Zacchaeus knew that something wasn’t right in his life and he climbed that sycamore tree to see if this Rabbi, who was known for healing, had anything to offer him. A sycamore tree was good place to hide with its thick, leafy branches. Think of all the people in our congregations who hide behind the sycamore leaves of: busyness, church work, theological language; judging the sins of others to take the spotlight off of ourselves, etc.
When the crowd saw Jesus go over to Zacchaeus, they must have been licking their chops at the prospect of the scolding that Zacchaeus was going to receive! But they were shocked and dismayed when Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home for a meal! Or, as Eugene Peterson says, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?” Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall observing the conversation between Zacchaeus and Jesus? I wonder if Jesus scolded him. I don’t think so. I think that as Jesus listened to Zacchaeus…and took him seriously…that Zacchaeus experienced grace…unmerited favor.
In response to the grace of God, Zacchaeus did not say these six most important words…I am sorry, I was wrong… with his lips…he said them with his life. He made a radical decision to give half of his goods to the poor and he restored what he stole from people four–fold. This was well beyond what was required in the Jewish law for making restitution. When Jesus saw this genuine act of repentance, he knew that Zacchaeus wanted to change his ways.
Are we willing to put our repentance into action? Jesus is less interested in our words…than our ACTIONS. Talk is cheap. It is easy to say that we have repented…while we keep the disobedient behavior going. That is why the best way to let Jesus know that we have repented and are truly sorry for our sins…is to back up our words … with our life.
As Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the United States Senate said, “If you want someone to believe what you are saying…back it up with your life.” So…if we truly repent, then we must SAY say these six important words…I am sorry, I was wrong…AND we must back them up with our actions. For Jesus…our ACTIONS speak louder than our words.