“No, I tell you, unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:5)
After a horrible event happens, there is often a call to re-evaluate our lives. In religious circles we talk about that introspection as prayer and repentance. In this passage, Jesus calls people to repentance after the massacre of innocents by Pilate in the Temple and after an accident killing eighteen people when the Tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:1-4). There is a time in the wake of tragedy (in our time as much as Jesus’) that a careful investigation of what happened, why, who was responsible, how can the course be corrected or prevented in the future is warranted.
The word “repentance” literally means to change one’s vision or direction. It is a turning around or seeing a new way forward, that was previously unavailable. To put repentance into practice starts by acknowledging that we are not God and we don’t have a clear view of the big picture or ourselves. It is admitting we do not know everything. It is acknowledging honestly that we often act without knowing the consequences; or that we do know the implications and do it anyway. It is confessing that we have done harm to others out of our self-interest. It is hoping to live, think and act better. Repentance often leads to the hard work of forgiveness, making amends where we can and restoring relationships when possible after we have hurt people. Repentance also includes the change of heart to accompany different actions and way of being.
Jesus calls us to a way of repentance that guides our entire lives. Paul called it the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Repentance leads us to be more and more self-reflective, honest, and dependent on God’s mercy and peace. By looking inward, repentance causes us to begin looking outward to the needs of others in self-giving love. This ongoing way of repentance helps us be responsive when tragedy strikes, rather than look for who to blame for it. It calls us into compassion to help when people are in need. It looks beyond our often selfish, self-interested concerns. It looks to love as we are loved. It takes root in us as a new way to be in the world. It helps us grow. It bears fruit.
Hence the parable of fig tree. Our lives are not just about getting better at growing figs. Fig trees grow figs or there is something wrong. The plant might need better nourishment. We do too. Growing fruit is what a fig tree does, just as loving others is what a follower of Jesus does. God’s word, the sacraments, prayer and community with others nourish our faith. Living into ongoing repentance will naturally grow fruit, or we might not begetting enough nourishment. It is not a measuring stick to condemn us. It is fruit to share. Looking beyond ourselves to God and others shows us a new life. In it we may find a joy that we may have never known before or maybe have long forgotten. It is a joy found beyond ourselves that reaches back and gives us a strength that is not our own to meet whatever challenges are coming.
Be nourished in a life of repentance to grow and thrive. Come and be nourished by God’s grace again.
What do you think of when you hear the word “repent”?
How does changing direction/vision change that definition?
Are you ready to make repentance a way of life? Why or why not?