“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17)
The Greek term for repentance, metanoia, does not mean being sorry for one’s sins. In fact it actually means “a change of mind.” It means gaining a whole new life outlook. Specifically in relation to God it means leaving everything behind that hinders our relationship with God and reaching out for all those things that will bring us closer to God. In a Christian context that means Christ Himself ... the one who is both God and Man, the One who restores that relationship through self sacrifice. That is His Mind, which if we are to be Christians, must be ours as well.
Listen to St. Paul ...
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
By which we learn that repentance is the acquisition of humility and that requires both understanding and action.
"Repentance," says Basil the Great, "is salvation, but lack of understanding is the death of repentance."
First then, understanding ... we may need to relearn repentance because although a change of mind will involve sorrow for one’s sins as evidence of repentance sorrow alone is not repentance. Sorrow can become maudlin, self pitying, impassioned. Far more important is actually changing one’s mind in accordance with that presented by Christ ... and that we need to understand ... and then practise.
It is often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Metanoia is doing something about our alienated existence ... like the prodigal son, returning home to his non-judgemental all loving father. As it says in the gospel .... “I will ARISE and go to my father...”
There must be action ... change and it must be sincere.
Earlier in St. Matthew’s gospel Jesus confronts a group of hypocritical and conniving Pharisees and Sadducees who make a show of coming to John the Baptist for his baptism. He challenges them with the true consequences of metanoia ... “bear fruits” he says “worthy of repentance.”
That’s how it is ... is there humility, is there true change, is there a new life, a new orientation, a new mind? If there is there will be fruits in compassion born out of humility, justice flowing from mercy and righteousness and peace .... all in short supply it seems in our world today, especially, sadly in those lands where this message was first heard. But what of us?
Here’s a conundrum ... we need to change, but what if we ourselves hinder our own changing. What can be done? We may want to change but we feel impoverished in spirit ... we lack the capacity, the power to follow through on our choice for God. So many things can hold us back .... habit, addictions, poor self esteem, lack of true deep seated desire.
God can and will help us with this but he does need a little step on our part, a beginning ... a down payment on transformation ... a step of faith; but whatever we must do we must do it NOW.
The other element of the gospel extract today expresses this urgency. “The Kingdom of God is AT HAND.” We may not have another chance. We can’t prevaricate. We must act while we can; while we have the light.
Let us then choose God, choose life, choose joy, but NOW, not later. Then we shall enter the joy of our Lord. Then we shall know his Love and show that Love in the world. Then we shall have the mind of Christ. Metanoia.
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