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Repentance


REPENTANCE

Repentance is a precondition for reconciliation with God. That calls for reviewing one’s actions against covenantal relationship with God and wrongdoings against others, including omissions to do good to those in need.

Repentance is a prevalent theme in the Old and New testaments. Whenever Israelites broke away from God, He sent prophets asking them to repent and reconcile with Him. The message of John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way for the Lord, was also repentance. The baptism he administered was the official sign of accepting repentance. Jesus and his disciples also called people to repent.

Jesus presented repentance in the vivid parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). The son had deviated from his father by his own mistake. He came back to his senses, returned, and reconciled with his father. However, the father was generous to accept him as his son with full rights far beyond what the prodigal son expected. In the parable, repentance presumes sin, which deviates from the intimate relationship with God due to our fault. Our reviewing of faults, regret for the wrong actions, a resolution to change our behavior, meeting God through baptism, and receiving absolution through the sacrament of reconciliation are necessary.

The Greek word for repentance is Metanoia. It implies a change of mind and a change of conduct. The prodigal son changed his behavior and relation with his father. Jesus said to the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). Repentance and reconciliation become complete only with our willingness to change our sinful life and God’s acceptance of our repentance.

Adam and Eve failed to repent. Instead, they found fault with others for justifying their actions. Adam blamed Eve, and she accused the serpent. Adam said to God, “The woman whom you put here with me–she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it” (Gen 3:12). Eve’s answer was, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it” (Gen 3:13).

Besides sexual promiscuity and unnatural vice (Jud 1:7), the people of Sodom “did not give any help to the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49).

Jesus came to help people to repent so they shall gain salvation and become citizens of the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist also asked the people to repent before the imminent judgement. Repentance included regret on one’s failures along with a change of mind, heart, and lifestyle.

Repentance involves changing the sinful life. When tax- collectors and soldiers came to John, they asked what they should do as part of repentance. He said to tax-collectors: “Do not collect more than your fixed rate.” To the soldiers he said: “Do not take anything by force or threaten the people by denouncing them falsely. Be content with your pay” (Lk 3:12-14).

Repentance also involves compensation for the mistakes done. When Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ house, out of repentance he declared: “ ‘The half of my goods, Lord, I give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I pay him back four times as much.’ Looking at him Jesus said, ‘Salvation has come to this house today’ ” (Lk 19:8-9). Saul, who persecuted the early church, compensated by working enthusiastically for evangelization and even became a martyr for Jesus. Augustine, who led a sinful life, when converted by the prayers of his mother Monica, served the church earnestly, became a bishop, a canonized saint, and a Doctor of the Church.

The righteous also need to repent. It can mean a change of mind or direction for the betterment. The Bible says even God who is perfect had repented. God had destroyed many people of Israel at Mount Sinai because they worshipped the golden calf under Aaron’s leadership. However, Moses interceded for them. “Then the LORD repented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (Ex 32:14). Here, repentance is a change of mind as the Bible’s modern translations give.

John the Baptist’s reply to the crowds that asked him what they should do for repentance was: “If you have two tunics, give one to the person who has none; and if you have food, do the same” (Lk 3:10-11). Taking care of the needy by the acts of charity was also a sign of repentance. He asked people to “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8). Again John said, “The axe is already laid to the root of the tree and every tree that fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lk 3:9). Lack of good work also is part of sin. People who do not produce good fruit out of the resources God gave them need repentance.

Becoming poor by sharing our resources with others is a means of becoming perfect. Hence, Jesus asked the youthful man who kept all the commandments of God, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all that you possess and give the money to the poor, and you will become the owner of a treasure in heaven. Then come back and follow me” (Mt 19:21).

The prodigal son’s elder brother did not commit any sin other than his unwillingness to accept his repentant brother. He represented the elite Jews who had to change their attitude towards the Publicans and the sinners. The action required is, as Jesus taught, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Thus, its twofold dimension is turning away from sin and going towards God. So, after giving up the sinful ways, we must put into practice the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If faith is a gift of God then repentance is our response to it. Jesus came to the world with this gift for which he gave his life as a ransom for our sins. When we positively respond to it, we become eligible for its benefits. Yes, repentance starts with baptism but it doesn’t end there. It is an ongoing process of renewing our life in Jesus and trying to do good in the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

WHO SHOULD REPENT?

1. The immoral and public sinners
The tax collectors, like Levi, prostitutes, and other sinners who became sick, received forgiveness and favours from Jesus because of their repentance. Jesus forgave the repentant woman caught in adultery, saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore” (Jn 8:11). Jesus promised paradise to the repentant criminal who was crucified alongside him (Lk 23:43). When the people brought a paralytic lying on a stretcher, he healed him and said, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2).

2. The self-righteous
Jesus addressed the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else” (Lk 18:9). The publican went home justified because of his repentance and the Pharisee did not get God’s favour because he exalted himself and despised the tax collector.

3. Selfish people who ignore the less fortunate
In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), the rich man failed to help Lazarus for his uplift and hence, his selfishness led him to the eternal fire. The same was the case for his five brothers. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite were negligent in showing compassion to the wounded person (Lk 10:30-37). Jesus presents the verdict of the last judgement to the selfish: “‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Mt 25:45-46).

4. Those who exploit others
Zacchaeus was a public sinner who repented and compensated for the damage he had done to others by promising Jesus, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over” (Lk 19:8). God commanded the Israelites through Moses: “You shall not exploit your neighbour. You shall not commit robbery. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer. You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD” (Lev 19:13-14).

5. Those who do not forgive others
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus included, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12). Then Jesus added, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Mt 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus, “‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times’” (Mt 18:21-22). After teaching the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus concluded, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart” (Mt 18:34-35).

6. Violators of God’s commandments
Whoever violates any of God’s ten commandments is committing a sin against God. Such persons need repentance, reparation, and renewal of relationship with God and fellow humans.


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