Keeping the Commands of Christ – Week One – Repent!
Matthew 4:13-17 –
13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
While Jesus’ turning of the water into wine at Cana was His first miraculous sign (John 4:11), the ushering in of his public ministry can be said to have really begun with the preaching of repentance. John the Baptist, the one sent to “prepare the way of the Lord,” preached a Gospel of repentance, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:2;10) When Jesus began preaching, He proclaimed the same message.
Repentance prepares the way for the Lord into our hearts. He seeks to be Lord–ruler–but we have set up fiefdoms here and there, strongholds where His will in our lives does not prevail. Christ is glad to conquer our heart, but we must let Him in, and we do so by repenting of that which we know is against Him. But what does it mean to repent? On it’s most basic level, repentance means to turn away from something, to change one’s mind. It is not wavering, but involves intent. In preparation for Jesus’ ministry, the Father sent John the Baptist to exhort people to turn away from their sins and to think differently about their actions.
To repent does not mean to perfect oneself. It means to change the state of one’s heart from one of rebellion against the ways of God to one of obedience. Even if we think we’re pretty decent, even if we believe that certain things are okay, the question is whether we are willing to change our minds and follow God’s commands rather than our own desires and will. Such a change is the essence of repentance, which leads to conversion of heart.
People who are “converts” to something have adopted a new way of life, a new way of being. God desires all who serve Him to have converted hearts. Speaking of repentance and conversion together, the Catechism states that “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. (1431) Repentance refers to our thinking about something; what we once looked upon as good, right, OK, acceptable, etc., we reject as unacceptable, wrong, bad, etc. Or perhaps even things we looked down upon–for some, maybe faith itself–we now hold in esteem. St. Augustine puts it wonderfully:
“Whoever confesses his sins…is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear ‘man’ – this is what God has made; when you hear ‘sinner’ – this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made…When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.” (Augustine, Tractates on John, In Jo. ev. 12, 13) (1458)
Even if we accept God’s definition of right and wrong, the sins we commit originate in our hearts, and to change our heart is up to God. For “The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: ‘Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored!'” (1432) While many have a profound conversion experience at a point in their life–I did–this call to repentance and conversion of heart is continuous. As we grow in our understanding of God and of the nature of sin within us, we continue to turn away from that which is sinful and toward the Lord, ever relying up on His grace to experience change from the heart.