Recently I read through the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah. I was especially struck by Ezra’s repentance in chapter 9.
He finds out that other Israelites have sinned. He hasn’t committed this particular sin. Others have. And yet, when he hears about it, he spends a full day in mourning, and then prays in full identification with his fellow Israelites who have sinned.
My God, I’m too ashamed to lift up my face to you. Our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown to the heavens.Ezra 9:6, emphasis mine
I often have the opposite impulse. When I hear about the latest ways Christians have failed to care for the orphan and widow, when I hear of their complicity in acts of violence and oppression, I don’t immediate identify with them and ask God to forgive our sins.
Instead, my temptation is mostly to distance myself from such Christians.
But there appears to be some power in this kind of repenting on behalf of others. Ezra’s repentance in chapter 9 paves the way for the rest of the people to repent in chapter 10. They mourn their sins and renew the covenant and return to the Lord.