How do you first react when you read the word “repentance?”
For many of us, it might be with a squirm or a flinch. Slight, probably, but some small shiver of discomfort, nonetheless. Because many of us have years of associating certain feelings with that word, and most of the feelings aren’t good. They are, in fact, pretty BAD. Right? Repentance calls us to change by first feeling real, real BAD about ourselves. We have done wrong, and WE REPENT.
But that’s not a fair take on the word as Jesus used it. And it might be helpful, to so many of us, to consider what specific language Jesus uses when He speaks the words: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
The Greek word Jesus actually spoke is one he made up – a compound of two other, more common terms. It looks, in English, like “metanoia:” pronounced met-ah–noy-ah. Metanoia has come to be understood as a command – to change one’s mind or purpose. Most literally, it means “to be changed after being with…” or “to think differently afterwards.”
And both those ideas are beautiful to me. To consider that we would be changed after being in the presence of Jesus? Yeah! I’d think so. And that I could think differently after an encounter with Jesus? I bet!
In this way of seeing “repent” – it’s simply what we do whenever we encounter a better, higher way – we lean in the direction of THAT WAY, as opposed to the way we were headed before.
Much of the work Jesus did in the communities he visited was to reunite people. To put back together breaches that had grown up between who was “in” and “out,” who was “holy” and not, who was acceptable and who were unredeemable sinners. We talk about Jesus breaking down barriers and valuing all people…. but what did that practically look like, “on the ground,” in the places he walked? It looked like bringing suffering and afflicted people back into the fold of family and community support. It looked like a call to end ostracism and judgement. It looked like modeling new ways to create space for people and to exist, in peace, together.
Sometimes, we cause breaches in community and in the peace. Sometimes, we turn from the best and highest way, to take our own way. Sometimes, we serve self at the expense of others. And that’s when Jesus’ call rings out – not to stop, drop and wallow in shame but to NOTICE ANOTHER WAY. “Repent,” Jesus says. “See what I do, here? It is Kingdom work. Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near. Come and see it, with me. Experience this new life with me, then change your mind. Change your way. Be forever changed.”
That’s how I now hear the word “repentance.” As a call to change directions… to rethink or think again, bigger…. To open up my mind to someone else and something else – some other parallel reality – God wants me to see. If God is showing me something I got wrong and could make better, the first step to “better” is always right at hand. It usually takes the smallest shift or act. I first realize my current actions are holding this future good at bay. But my change can bring it closer.
Sometimes, I am wrong. But I REPENT. And the Kingdom of Heaven rejoices as it comes closer and closer to hand.
So… what associations do you bring to the word “repent?” How have they changed over time? I look forward to hearing from you!
--Rev. Ginger Brandt