There’s a word that shows up in this Gospel lesson appointed for today; the word shows up continually in the Scriptures and in the vocabulary of the church: repent. Repentance is both better and worse than you might imagine. The English word translated as “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia”: a preposition “meta (after) and “noia” (to think or observe). “Metanoia” – repentance – is something we conclude in hindsight where we realize we had it wrong: something we have done or left undone, said or left unsaid that was wrong. Maybe a conclusion or a judgment call about something or someone which we now see wasn’t right. It may be a whole pattern of actions, brazenly in the open or in the secrecy of darkness that may have snowballed out of control, and it’s wrong. It’s got to stop; we can see it, sadly. And so that’s the other piece about repentance. Repentance isn’t just wisdom gleaned from experience; repentance is regret gleaned from sorrow. We cannot go on, we simply cannot live with ourselves that way any longer. Repentance is hindsight teeming with regret, enough so to fuel a change in life. Repentance is both better and worse than you might imagine.
We hear about repentance constantly during the season of Lent, as if to say we must get it wrong on a regular basis, small and big ways. (Today we began our liturgy with a confession of sin. We did not first take a survey, asking whether any of us here had need for the making of a confession. We just moved ahead with the confession, presuming that all of us here were in need, having missed the mark.) That’s why repentance is worse than you might imagine. It’s such a pervasive problem in life: getting it wrong, in big ways and small ways… and where we realize we need to change our ways. That’s the bad news. The Gospel is bad news before it’s good news. The good news is this is what Jesus is all about. Jesus presumes that we’re like lost sheep needing to be rescued on a regular basis. Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost, and that’s talking about us.[i] C. S. Lewis says that repentance is not something God demands of you before God will take you back and could let you off the hook. It is simply a description of what going back is like.[ii] That’s the good news coming out of the bad news.
Here’s a suggestion around repentance, a daily practice you could incorporate into the remaining days of Lent. It might even become habitual, a good habit that you carry on in life. This is what Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th century founder of the Jesuits, encourages on a daily basis, what he calls “the manifestation of conscience” or “manifestation of consciousness.”[iii] Before the close of the day, turn around and look back on your day. If you keep a daily calendar, you might find it helpful to use your calendar as a prompt for your memory. Rehearse your day as you navigated from one thing to the next:
- Presume that God has been with you. Jesus assures us that he is with us always.[iv] Jesus is God Emmanuel, God with us. God with you.
- Give thanks to God for the enormous privilege of being alive, and for so much good that surrounds and fills your life. Express your thanks to God for so much that is good.
- Look where you missed the mark. In your interactions with other people – passing strangers or people whom you know well – where did you get it wrong in what you said or left unsaid, did or left undone? Sometimes it’s not about our relationship with other people; it’s about our relationship with our own self. We can be our own worst enemies. There may be some interchange as we look back on the day where we were out of sync with ourselves, where we broke our own integrity, and we know it.
- Repentance is an intervention. It’s the recognition that something was off the mark; that something needs a change. This isn’t just about spiritual calisthenics, working ourselves out to get better. The life-change that Jesus promises for us is something that happens at God’s initiative and our collaboration; God operates and we co-operate.
- Repentance presumes we can change. You can change.
Come Lord Jesus: supply what you command.
[i] Luke 19:10.
[ii]C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, pp. 38-39.
[iii]Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), in his “Examen of Consciousness.”
[iv] Matthew 28:20.