Repent! When we hear this word we might think of a disheveled man in ragged clothes with a long gray beard standing on the street corner with a sign warning people of the end times and God’s coming judgment. We may also think of a one-time experience when someone finally stops doing something bad and changes their behavior. It is like someone ceases to go in a destructive or negative direction and turns around for good.
In the reading from the Gospel of Luke for Sunday we will hear Jesus say, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” What did Jesus mean when he used the word repent in this verse? Sometimes when interpreting what a certain part of Scripture might mean it is important to go back to the original language in which it was written and see if there are any nuances in the grammar that can shed light on what is being said. In this instance the verb “to repent” is from the Greek word, metanoeo. The word is in the present tense (subjunctive), which implies continual action. So another way of saying it would be “continue to repent” or “keep on repenting.” It sounds like Jesus is saying this is not a one-time event that saves a person from perishing, but rather a lifestyle of repentance.
Martin Luther talked about remembering our baptism in this way. He talked about a daily “dying” and “rising” each day. In this way the promises of God become new each morning. To repent then is not about making a one-time decision, but about making every day an opportunity for a fresh start. It is about making a continual choice to change our mind and re-orient it back in the direction of loving God and loving our neighbor.
Would seeing the process of repentance in this manner take away some of the negative connotations associated with the word “repent?” Would it take away some of the fear and judgment connected with repenting? Would it instead bring a measure of comfort or hope knowing that repentance is actually an on-going process where we can get a second chance each new day?
-Pastor Erik Goehner