By the Rev. Tom Sramek, Jr., rector of St. Mark’s, Medford
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 3:1-2
Repent. It is not a word we are used to hearing or using in everyday life. We don’t commonly ask ourselves or others “Have you repented today?”
But repentance itself hopefully isn’t unusual. To repent (Greek: metanoia) means simply to turn around, to change one’s mind, to go in a different direction. Since we are all imperfect people, we hopefully do this all the time.
We say something, do something, or go somewhere and we find out that is not God’s will for us, hurts someone else, or simply is wrong and we turn back from that, perhaps apologize, and move on to hopefully do better next time.
It is sad and unfortunate that our contemporary culture seems to see repentance as either a weakness or a marketing stunt. There is a sense that once committed to a course of action, the idea of acknowledging it to be a mistake, perhaps apologizing for it, learning from it, and moving in a different direction is somehow a sign of weakness, wishy-washyness, or “flip-flopping.”
As a culture, we seem to penalize people for admitting that they were wrong. This obviously results in people being extremely reluctant to admit mistakes and take corrective actions.
On the flip side, if someone DOES admit to an error, there is the temptation to crucify them for it and not to “let them get away with it.” In such a culture, repentance either becomes or can be taken as a marketing technique or a political ploy rather than a genuine change of mind.
But repentance is something we should get used to doing frequently and intentionally, whether it is a thoughtless remark, a bad habit, or even a poor life choice. We should welcome it in ourselves, our friends, and our political leaders.
Indeed, true repentance and amendment of life requires that we regularly listen for and heed the prophetic voice inside and/or around us that calls us to examine our lives, “clean out” the things that keep us from living the full life that God intends, and chart a new path in accordance with God’s will. Grace is meaningless if we do not avail ourselves of it frequently.
Preparing for the anniversary of the first coming of the Christ child and Jesus’ second coming in the future reminds us of this need for God’s grace.