The Meaning of “Repent”

January 22, 2023

Mt 4:12-23; 22 January 2023; 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Matthew summarizes all of Jesus’s preaching in one sentence: “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The sentence is short and forceful. But what does it mean? That depends on how we understand the word “repent.” We usually connect “repent” with our own personal sins. We should repent of impatience, pride or insensitivity. Although these changes in our behavior are certainly a part of repenting, they are not its fundamental sense. Our word “repent” comes from the Greek word metanoia. It certainly calls us to change, but the change is in the most fundamental sense. The Greek word meta means “beyond.” Noia comes from the Greek word for “mind.” So metanoia means to go beyond our mind, go into a new way of thinking. When Jesus asks us to repent, he is not simply asking us to reject one or two personal sins. He is asking us to turn around completely, to take on a new world view and a new set of values. That view and those values are those of the Kingdom of God. The values of the Kingdom call us to change in a fundamental way. They call us to be people of mercy, unity, and joy.

When someone hurts us or crosses us, our hearts fill with anger. We churn over and over all the reasons why the person who offends us does not deserve our mercy or forgiveness. Jesus says to us “Repent! Turn around completely. No one earns mercy.” We should be merciful to others because God has been merciful to us.

When we look at the state of our country, we find ourselves divided down the middle with each half holding radically different ideas of what America should be. Our inclination is to choose a side and “dig in,” to characterize the other side as foolish or perhaps even evil. Jesus says, “Repent! Push onward to a new way of thinking.” Unity is something that God values, and it is only when we find common ground that we will flourish as a nation.

There are so many things in life that can pull us down—problems in our family, financial stress, or social injustice. We can quickly become hardened and bitter people. Jesus says, “Repent! Take on a whole new world view in which God is active.” If we believe that the Spirit of God moves among us and that God’s grace has real power, there is always reason for hope. Then, even in difficult times, we can be joyful people.

When Jesus calls us to repent, he is not calling for some minor adjustment. He is calling us to be new people, people of mercy, unity, and joy. That is not an easy change, but it is a change that is possible by God’s grace. Therefore, since Jesus has already told us that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, today could be the day that we take the values of the Kingdom as our own.

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of “Repent””

  1. Thank you so very much. I hope to remember this in “practice” in daily life and to think about it, especially, and to incorporate this “New Way of Thinking” (and living) in my Lenten focus and resolutions. Let us truly be people of Mercy, Unity, and JOY

  2. Metanoia, a great challenge today, as you say, in this divided country, down to divided families. I used to think I was a devoted disciple of Christ, but it has gotten more challenging! Thanks for another great reflection.


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