In the book of Jeremiah, we are asked, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” Modern day interpretation of the question leaves us with the more widely known phrase: “A leopard can never change his spots.” And perhaps the implied question is the same: Can we, in fact, change who we fundamentally are?
This week, as I listened to the Passion of Christ being read aloud in church, I wept. I was overwhelmed by humanity’s cowardice; by the ease in which we follow the popular opinion; by the power of our fear and the intensity of our anger; and by the limits of our closed-mindedness. I reflected on those same qualities in myself. And now, in light of the passage from Jeremiah, I am led to question the spots I bear on my own coat.
This reflection was also strengthened by an interaction I had with another leopard. His spots are well known to me. He’s been showing them for years. And despite my naïve hope that his spotted coat will someday turn into a more majestic demonstration of character, that remains to be seen.
I don’t think it’s true that people can’t change. In fact, I think they change all the time. But I do think it is a choice. And that choice – or free will – is a gift to us from God. To say, “This is just who I am,” is a cop out. Only when we abandon the excuses we make for our spots can we make new discoveries about what lies within us.
Changing and staying the same are choices. As the season of Lent comes to a close, I am looking at my spots. While they make me human, I also know that God will help me to change them. I just have to choose.