Repentance: The Way To Life

Luke 13:1-9

‘13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”’

Politics is one of the most fascinating and brutal aspects of Australian life. The viciousness, with which some politicians treat and abuse others, appals many of us. The nature of Federal Parliament question time when fingers are pointing and hands are waving makes us wonder if any of them are actually on the side of voters.

Politics is a great disappointment in Australian life. We seem to have so few statesmen, or potential ones.  In elections there are no congratulations, only further abuse, and pride. The great weakness of modern democracy is the political representatives required to make them work. Australians are so often let down by their politicians, in their policies and lives.  One example is the exonerated politician who was charged with impersonating a police officer to try and get his son off a driving charge. Of course the result was he didn’t do it.

It is also reported that a certain politician is so long-winded that he can give mouth to mouth resuscitation by telephone.

And yet amidst it all, occasionally we have a politician resign. That really brightens my day. I suddenly get a new feeling of hope when that happens, for without being badgered and pressured for months, someone actually says they have done something wrong and resigns.  There is no attempt at self-justification, no claims to have been misquoted or misrepresented, not even a statement of clarification (the most confusing of any utterances a political makes!). Just a plain resignation. I was impressed with the man I am thinking of, even though it is not good manners to open mail addressed to other people.

It was almost well timed to fit with the Lenten readings concerned with repentance.

There is a difference between an apology and repentance.  There is also a third term, ‘remorse,’ and we should be clear that that is different as well. Remorse regrets what has happened.  Someone regrets that an event has occurred. Remorse is weaker than an apology and repentance.

A thief stole a pastor’s wallet as he was travelling on a crowded train. Soon he received a letter saying,

“Reverend, I stole your money.  Remorse is gnawing me, so I send some of it back to you. If it gnaws me again I will send you some more.”

Remorse at what we have done is most strongly felt by most of us in a dentist’s chair.

An apology acknowledges that a wrong has been committed. Apologies are rare in our time because we are so busy winning, that we can’t concede our own mistakes.

Yet apologies go some way in acknowledging that a wrong has been committed.   Some time back all the ministers in the synod received a letter from the Uniting Church Office apologising for appointing a young gay activist to a position of influence.  It was a decision that upset quite a few ministers. There was an apology but not repentance. Repentance is something different. It includes remorse and apology but goes beyond them.

Repentance in addition adds a resolve never to allow this situation to occur again. It means that there is a change of mind and direction so that the action, the sin, and the deed will not recur again.

It is like a yacht changing from tacking into the breeze, to running about and using the tail wind to open up spinnakers and run before the wind. And it is this that Jesus calls for.

It is easy in Luke 13 to be led off by the main stories in the text.  They are sad ones, and it is tempting to turn them into a study of the nature of evil. Why do these things happen? Theodicy? I’m resisting that because that is not the main issue Jesus wants to direct our attention towards. Rather it is to the word REPENTANCE. Note clearly what he is teaching. He gives examples of evil events, evil as results of human incompetence or human evil.

And he acknowledges that these events are forms of evil. Yet he points to another evil, a worse evil, the evil of not repenting.  Worse that all the evils, Jesus cites is the evil of not being right with God. Worse than the tower, worse than the slaughter, is the evil of living in a relationship of self-alienation from God. A worse evil can befall the unrepentant, that which befell the victims Jesus speaks of; that of going into the rest of life or eternity without having been penitent, without being open and honest before a holy and perfect God.

Repentance is the pathway God makes available to for us to walk down. It is the painful process of spiritual surgery we must go through, before we are able to receive grace. It is like what happens in a new development.  All the debris and undergrowth is cleared, so that a new start can be made.

Lent is a time in which we tend to the undergrowth in our lives. The spiritual weeds which need to be torn out. The thorns and prickles of unbelief. The briars of temptation weakly resisted. The neighbours left unloved. The reconciliation not sought with God and with people. Lent is the time to deal with all of them.

And for people who do not know Christ as Lord and Saviour, that first repentance has to happen. That time when we turn from living for ourselves, to living for the Lord. To become His son or daughter for the first time. Sure there will be other occasions when we will repent, but the first time we do, in turning towards Jesus, is the hardest and most painful time.

But it is the way to life. When I have come across people in need, and I have told them God loves them, they do not change much. But where I encourage them to repent before the Lord, clean up their lives and make a new start with Him, I see change, deep change. In a sense we cannot receive the love of God until the undergrowth is clear enough for the soil to be reached.

Repentance is the means God uses to open up our lives to His healing love. It looks upon things past with a weeping eye, and upon the future with a watchful eye.

Repentance is the means God uses to open up our lives to His healing love. It pries open the closed oyster shell of our human pride and allows the Lord to deposit the pearl of great price.

Does God need to do a little surgery in our lives?  What is he saying to us? Is there some undergrowth needing to be tended to, some weeds that need uprooting? I don’t know. That might not be needed at all for you, but if it is, take time to offer the gift of repentance to the Lord very soon.

We can best receive the Cross of victory when we have knelt before it and opened our hearts and minds to the Lord.

By George Robert Iles