What does repentance really mean? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Or rather, what does it mean to feel regret, sorrow over something that you did and turn over a new leaf? I think for many, myself included, there is not a problem in feeling sorrow or guilty over some stupid sin that you’ve committed. Since we are human and screwing up all the time, coming to grips with how bad we feel over our actions, even if we try to cover them up, is not that hard. But that turning over a new leaf part, well that is where the rubber meets the road. Turning over a new leaf involves change, true transformational change in ones actions, thoughts, and opinions. It cannot be bought by even the most heartfelt apology or for that matter, forgiveness, but must lead to new actions so that the same offense is not committed again.
In Luke 3, John the Baptist preached about repentance for forgiveness of sin. So as not to scare anybody, I wont reiterate what he says here (he says some pretty heavy stuff for someone not as familiar with his work and this is just not the place for that) but he essentially encourages his audience to repent and prepare for the coming of the Lord i.e. Jesus. In response to John’s admonition the crowd asks him what they are to do, or what repentance looks like. This is what John says:
“The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3.11-14, NASB)
Did you just read that? Go back and read it again just in case you missed it. For John there was a direct correlation between the use of money and possessions to oppress people and repentance. Honestly, John could have chosen to highlight any number of things. He could have told the people that they needed to fast and pray more, which would have been just as good. He could have told them to be more devoted to the Lord, which also would have been great. But he saw that their spirituality and ability to relate with God was marred by their corruption and exploitation of power, means, and prestige over and above those who had limited resources.
How is our own spirituality impacted by our choices and failure to not only recognize, but help those who have been oppressed? Are we giving our coat, sharing our food, resisting exploitation and fighting against greed not only within our society but within ourselves? I beg you, just for a moment, to step away from the political pendulum and how you might identify yourself within it, and instead consider what God is saying here. How can we continue to ignore the cries and needs of the poor, hungry, sick, unemployed, fatherless, disabled, or any other specification, and still identify with God? The fact of the matter is that we cannot, we have to repent!