I have a fun refrain with my girls. It started some time ago. In a teasing manner, I would yell “REPENT!” and their little voices would respond “and believe the Gospel!” So, to this day I will sometimes yell “REPENT” and here comes that response…
Ah, the exclusive humor of being a preacher’s kid! I may need your help paying the therapy bills for these kids!
As funny as that little family scene may be, I continue to be convinced that repentance is woefully misunderstood by most people. And that, dearest, is dangerous because the very heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ is the labor of repentance. St. Isaac of Syria said it best “This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.” Repentance is so integral with the Christian faith and life that Jesus Himself preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) This is His first sermon to His people. This is the sermon He gave His disciples to preach. This is the sermon that all Christian leaders are to declare even to this day. Repent!
So why the disconnect concerning repentance? Well, I’m convinced it’s because the evil one has succeeded in his deception of the human race into thinking that repentance is all about admitting you broke the rules. Repentance is misunderstood as having to come clean about how bad you are and how “unsuccessful” you are and how “common” you are. No one wants to be made to say “I’m sorry.” Just go to any playground in any city or town anywhere and watch adults try to make their kids apologize for hitting or cheating or, well, anything! We don’t want to repent because we fundamentally misunderstand what repentance is. We don’t want to go to confession because we fundamentally misunderstand what confession is all about!
In our Gospel Lesson today our Lord sends out His disciples to spread His message of repentance to the nation. He does this to begin the process of returning the faithful to their primary calling: to be the example of the new Kingdom for the whole of humanity. But first, these people must repent!
Look at Mark 6:7-13: At that time, Jesus called to him his twelve disciples and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.” So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.
If we look seriously at this passage we will begin to correct our misunderstanding about repentance. The disciples tell the people to repent. Then they liberated the people from the hold of the evil one and they healed their physical diseases! Do you see?
The word “repent” comes from the Greek “metania” which literally means “to change your mind.” The work of repentance is all about reorienting your thinking and actions (one always follows the other) to come to reality, and the reality of our human problem isn’t that we are rule breakers, but that we are slaves to our passions and ill in our souls. Each and every one of us! To repent is to see yourself and your spiritual slavery as it is and to admit you need a “Physician!”
Today, are you investing your best efforts, your best work, your best motivations in repentance? Are you free from those passions that enslave you to a pattern of life that is destructive and unhealthy for your soul? The first step in the liberation of your life is, and has always been, repentance. Change your mind about repentance, about the good medicine of regular confession, about the labor of admitting your own need for grace and healing in your soul. Do this. Do this right now! Repent! And keep on repenting until you are like Jesus Christ Himself by His grace,being set free from all your illnesses of heart and soul. Repent!