Across the Pastor’s Desk: Listen to the word of the Lord
Published 9:20 pm Thursday, January 23, 2020
Across the Pastor’s Desk by Don Rose
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, John the Baptist and Jesus share the same message to the world, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
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Like the rest of the material contained in the Bible, these words seem so simple and straight forward and thus should be easy to understand. Yet, that may very well not be the case at all.
What does it mean to repent? For most, repentance is tied to saying “I’m sorry and I will do better or differently given the chance to do so.”
This understanding and response to the call for repentance leaves control in the hands of the individual and rests upon that individual’s efforts to make amends and to make a new life. This all sounds very good, particularly in relation to the message of the culture which says that one can do anything that one sets one’s mind to do. However, this approach leaves us in a quandary, much like that of the Apostle Paul, who said that the things that he would do he did not, and the things that he wouldn’t he did. Thus the apostle said this new life to which people were called in relationship to God as revealed in Jesus the Christ was not a do-it-yourself project.
Rather, true repentance is an “I cannot” moment. It is the realization that an individual cannot change enough, be good enough or sorry enough to make a right relationship with God. Repentance is the awareness that life at its best is still broken and at odds with God’s ultimate desire for an intimate relationship with all of the children of creation, a relationship that calls people to be in relationship with one another as well in a similar way. This kind of repentance goes against the grain of human understanding.
Yet, to be able to acknowledge that one cannot on one’s own be made right with God opens one to the gift that God has already worked and would offer. The individual is no longer in the way of what God would accomplish.
The primary characteristic of such repentance is humility. The humility to recognize that what one cannot do has already been done. It is to recognize that God is already present to welcome, to receive and to strengthen.
Humility seems to be out of favor in a world that would reward aggressiveness to the point of bullying. As challenging as this may be, it is a reminder that God’s people have long been called to a world different than the one that they live in. Truly the future, not only of individuals, but of the world rests on humility and repentance.
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Listen to the word of the Lord.
Don Rose is a pastor at Mansfield and United Lutheran churches.