“Repent” is one of those words that makes me feel a little itchy. Street preachers shout “repent” in front of crowded stadiums and health centers. The season of Lent calls us to repentance, often leading us to reflect on our mistakes, failures, and the times that the darkness inside us briefly overcame the light. But I think we mix up repentance with the idea of penance or atonement, thinking that repentance has something to do with making up for our sins.
The word “repent” comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means to “think differently, to reflect, to morally reconsider.” How might this definition of repent change the way we hear verse 17 of today’s passage? From that time, Jesus began to proclaim, “Think differently, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Or we could read it as, “Reconsider, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” In contemporary English we might say, “Think again! The kingdom of heaven has come near!” How different this verse sounds without the connotations we often assign to the idea of “repentance.” With this understanding, repentance sounds like a mental metamorphosis of life-changing scale.
Then the point of repenting isn’t about maintaining our shame or guilt but rather about radically changing our way of thinking. This context makes a lot of sense when we consider that so much of what Jesus preached flipped the societal norms of his day upside down. I wonder what societal norms Jesus would have us flip upside down in our world, thousands of years later.
What assumptions would Jesus have us challenge? What might Jesus be calling you to rethink, change your mind about, reconsider?
Jesus Christ, Light of the World, come near. Enlighten my mind and challenge my heart that I may walk in your ways with every step. Amen.