Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” That
is why the present often has a familiar feel about it. As if we have been here before. Someone else said, “History must repeat itself. We don’t learn the first time.” The New Zealand group Split Enz released a song, “History never repeats,” and the words following: “I tell myself before I go to sleep: don’t say the words you might regret. I’ve lost before you know I can’t forget.” These words remind us that history not only catches up with us. It can overtake us and become our future as well.
Sometimes history doesn’t repeat itself. Sometimes it just screams, “Why don’t you listen to me?” and lets fly with a big stick.
So, what do destroying serpents in the desert, good sinners or worse sinners, political violence, collapsing towers, and barren fig trees have to do with history? Jesus tells the disciples (and us): “Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” In Jesus’ world repentance requires turning and change into a path of right relationship with God, and with one another.
The events of Tuesday’s play in New Zealand were nothing short of intolerable, and really inexcusable. It was the response to this which was equally unacceptable, that of qualified “repentance.” What happened was indefensible. So why is it that we hear “If we have overstepped the mark then the umpires will step in.” Repentance or confession does not begin with ‘If’. If I have done something wrong, If I have offended you.. If …, If, … If.
God’s love for us is not qualified. So why should our response to God be so. The perishing, the repetition of history, the wallowing in regret, are placed squarely with both corporate and personal responsibility. Then Jesus tells a parable. Thank God for Jesus’ parables. It gives history, and us along with it, a future. Even if the digging and the fertiliser unsettles and stings a bit.