True Repentance

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 — Week of Proper 4, Year One

Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz, Missionary to Germany, and Martyr, 754

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 968

Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) 49, [53] (evening)

Deuteronomy 13:1-11

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

Luke 17:20-37

Most of us grow up with the notion that to repent is to feel bad for your sins. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but in the Bible “repent” means primarily resolve — have resolve to turn around from the direction you are traveling — away from God and away from your true self — and return to God.

We first hear the New Testament word “repent” in the opening of Mark’s gospel. In words reminiscent of the exile, Mark opens with the cry from the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Then the story of Jesus begins, first with his baptism, then with his sojourn in the wilderness. The arrest of John prompts Jesus to begin his public ministry, and he proclaims the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Then follows the good news — the story of Jesus.

We are invited to walk in the way of Jesus. Like the ancient story of exile, it is a sojourn through the wilderness back home. We find ourselves in exile, away from our true home — repentance is turning back toward home, reconnecting with God and walking home with resolve through the wilderness.

There is another angle to the meaning of repentance. I picked this up from Marcus Borg. The Greek roots of the word “repent” combine to mean “go beyond the mind that you have.” To repent is to go beyond the mind that we were given by our environment and by our culture, and allow Christ to shape a new mind and a new heart.

A major part of repentance is to recognize the cultural conditioning that we all receive, and place those cultural values in the wider context of Christ’s life and values. Go beyond the mind you have been given by your culture, and renew your mind in the good news. Borg says, “Repentance is the path of salvation. It is the path of reconnection, the path of transformation, the path of being born again, the path of dying and rising, the path of response to the message of the Kingdom of God… The Kingdom is at hand: go beyond the mind that you have. Repentance, like sin and salvation, is both personal and social.” (The Heart of Christianity, p. 180)

In today’s reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul commends the congregation because they have repented. Some of the congregation had been listening to and following the teaching of some of Paul’s enemies and following their way. Paul wrote a letter. (In chapter two he mentions his “tearful letter.” Many scholars believe chapters 10-13 are that tearful letter. In that section, Paul defends his ministry and attacks his enemies in Corinth.) Now Paul is rejoicing because Titus has visited Corinth and reported that the letter has had its intended result. The congregation has turned away from the false teachers and turned back in affection toward Paul. They have gone beyond the mind they had been given, and renewed their minds with the gospel Paul preached. They’ve reconnected with him. There is a renewed resolve in their relationship.

Repent means a lot more than to feel contrition. It’s about a lot more than sins. Repent is about the direction of our lives. To repent is to reconnect with God, to turn away from our self-centered ways and turn toward the way of Jesus. It is to leave the exile of our bondage, including the bondage of our cultural conditioning, and go beyond the mind that we have, embracing the mind of Christ. It is the path of transformation. Repent, and be-love, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

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