You probably have heard the old saying, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” Consider one of my nieces in Canada. She has had some health concerns and was finally diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. No one ever welcomes a cancer diagnosis, but she is in stage 2, and the prognosis is pretty good. She is facing some difficult days ahead because of the treatment, but her spirits are good now that she knows what she’s up against.
For the seven-week Easter season, our first lesson will come from the Book of Acts instead of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The lesson this week is the second of five sermons from Peter. The general theme of the sermons is that humanity kills but God defeats death. As an example, he reminds the crowd of their complicity in the death of Jesus, “I know that you acted in ignorance.”
I tried to picture Peter in one of my preaching classes in seminary. I’m guessing the professor might have suggested that calling one’s congregation ignorant is not a particularly good strategy. It turns out that Peter didn’t really call them ignorant, at least not in the insulting sense of the word. The Greek word for knowledge is “gnosis.” The prefix “a” means the absence of, so “agnosis” means “without knowledge” and is where we get the word agnostic. Ignorance does mean “without knowledge” but in our culture at least, it has a pejorative feel to it.
What Peter is actually saying to the crowd in regard to Jesus’ death is, “I know that you acted without knowledge.” Jump back in time to the crucifixion when Jesus pleads, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Acting without knowledge often has serious consequences. You may have read that the alleged shooter in the Parkland, Florida school shooting wants to donate his inheritance to his victims. Did he act “without knowledge?”
And that leads me to another word used in this lesson: repent. It does not really mean remorse. Metanoia means to change your mind. In fact the element of change is so important in the word, that it navigation, the word came to mean a change of course. It makes me think that Peter’s call to repentance might simply mean, change your mind from not knowing to knowing; be mindful because what you do really can make a difference.
Here’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln about changing his mind:
“I may be wrong in regard to any or all of them; but holding it a sound maxim, that it is better to be only sometimes right, than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.”