Repentance is a prevalent theme in the Old and New Testament. Whenever the Israelites broke away from God, He sent prophets asking them to repent and reconcile with God. The message of John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way for the Lord, was also repentance. The baptism he administered was an external sign of accepting repentance. Jesus and his disciples also called people to repent.
COMPONENTS OF REPENTANCE
1. Turning away from sinful life: When tax collectors and soldiers came to John for baptism, they asked what they should do as part of repentance. He said to tax collectors: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” To the soldiers he said: “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages” (Lk 3:12-14).
2. Compensation for the mistakes done: When Jesus came to the house of Zacchaeus, out of repentance he declared: ‘“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.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’” (Lk 19:8-9). Saul, who persecuted the early church, compensated by working enthusiastically for evangelization and even becoming a martyr for Jesus. Augustine, who had led a sinful life in the early stages of his life, when converted by the prayers of his mother Monica, served the church earnestly and became a bishop, Doctor of the Church, and a saint.
3. Taking care of the needy by acts of charity: John the Baptist’s reply to the crowds that asked him what they should do for repentance was: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:10-11). He asked people “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8). John warned those who were unwilling for repentance: “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lk 3:9).
Lack of charity is also a part of sin. People who do not produce good fruit out of the resources God gave also need repentance. That was why Jesus asked the young man who kept all the commandments of God to sell his property, give to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The prodigal son’s elder brother did not commit any sin other than his unwillingness to accept his repentant brother. This elder son also had to turn away from his ill feeling against his brother whom the father welcomed. The action required is, as Jesus taught, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Thus, twofold dimension of repentance is turning away from sin and turning towards God. So, after giving up sinful ways, we must put into practice the gospel of Jesus Christ to prepare for the Kingdom of God that would become complete in his second coming.
4. The “righteous” also need repentance. It can mean a change of mind or direction for betterment. God, who is perfect, have repented. He decided to destroy the people of Israel at Mount Sinai because they worshipped the golden calf under the leadership of Aaron. 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, the meaning of repentance is a change of mind as given in modern translations of the Bible.
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 and returned and reconciled with the father. However, the father was generous in accepting him as his son with full rights, which was more than the expectation of the prodigal son. In the parable, repentance presumes sin, that deviates from the intimate relationship with God by our own fault. Our reviewing of faults, feeling of regret for the wrong actions, a resolution to change our behavior, and meeting God through baptism and 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 was supposed to change his behavior and relation with his father. Jesus said to the adulterous woman whom the Jews brought to Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (Jn 8:11). Repentance and reconciliation become complete only with the grace of God’s acceptance of our repentance and our willingness to change our sinful life.
Jesus came to help people to repent so that he could save them and make them citizens of the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist also asked people to repent before the imminent judgment. Repentance included regret on one’s failures along with a change of mind, heart, and lifestyle.
Repentance, like faith, is also a gift of God to which we cooperate. 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. Repentance is not a ritual of baptism alone. It is an ongoing process of renewing our lives in Jesus and trying to do good in favor of the Kingdom of God.