Let’s Start Over
By Timothy Hankins
We mess up. We want to start over. We think we can do better. This concept is prevalent enough in human existence that it presents itself in many different ways. Kids ask for a “take back.” Relationships might need a “clean slate.” If we lack an actual phrase for the situation, we can simply slap the prefix “re-” onto a verb in order to “refresh,” “replay,” “retry,” and “redo.”
This idea of a “starting over” is incredibly common in Scripture as well. God would regularly try to do this in the Old Testament. Whatever His plan was, sometimes He would deem it necessary to start over and try again. An interesting and often overlooked example centers on Moses and the story of the Exodus. Moses led the Hebrews grumbling and complaining into the worst road trip in Salvation History. Every time something did not go as planned, the people complained. Rather than threatening to “turn the car around,” God suggested wiping out the Israelites and beginning anew with Moses (Deut. 9:13-14)! Once Moses pointed out how humans could interpret God’s actions, the Almighty decided that the generation of Israelites wandering in the wilderness could live out their time in the wilderness (of sin). The next generation would be better.
Fast-forward to the time of Christ. God incarnate walked throughout countryside of Judea. This was God’s best strategy to realign human history with His plan. And again we see examples of how we can fall short. Arguably the most famous is St. Peter, the rock on whom Jesus establishes the Church. The second is more infamous: Judas the Iscariot. Both men stumble in their journeys. At one point, Jesus called the future first Pope, “satan” (Mt. 16:23). Judas is labeled “the betrayer” and his name is synonymous with “traitor.” Both men abandon Jesus during his Passion. Judas hands over Jesus for a handful of silver. Peter “the Rock” denies knowing Jesus three times. Both recognize their mistakes, flee from the scene of the crime, and grieve. Both are absent from the foot of the Cross. So why is one held up as a model, while the other is forever reviled? Why is Peter sanctified but Judas stigmatized?
The shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”
When given the opportunity to start again, Peter literally jumps (from his boat) at the chance. Peter turned away from God in shame, but ultimately repented and tried to make things right. He responded affirmatively to Christ when asked “do you love me?” Judas turned his back on his friend and teacher and continued to flee in the opposite direction. He saw his role in Jesus’ suffering as if death sealed his fate. Judas could not forgive himself and refused the possibility of forgiveness, becoming his own judge, jury, and executioner (Mt. 27: 3-5).
How can we apply this to Lent? God makes all things new, but not against our will. God offers salvation, but does not force us to be saved. I know how difficult it is to ask someone for help. I am a firm believer in “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Our spiritual journeys should not, and frankly cannot, work that way. As we make our own ways through Lent to Calvary, Jesus offers us His hand as we walk. He knows the strength it takes to stand from a fall (or three). Through God’s mercy and grace, we have the beautiful, humble, and human experience of trying again. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we are granted the opportunity to start over, we need only ask and be willing to accept that gift to “make all things new.”
Timothy Hankins is currently the Theology Department Chair at Memphis Catholic Middle and High School in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a proud “double Domer,” having recently earned M.Ed. through the ACE program at Notre Dame.