The word “repentance” is daunting.
This probably has something to do with the not-too-uncommon depiction of a lofty God furrowing his brows down on a Sodom-esque community, commanding “Repent, sinners!” in a booming tone.
The broader Christian tradition has also had its own unfortunate history of preachers and people shouting from pulpits or street corners: “Repent, for thou art lowly!”
This constant reminder of our sinfulness can do only harm. And, as I have learned from my own past feelings of self-loathing because I believed sermons that told me God does not accept me, I am not sure if dwelling in disgust for ourselves is holy at all. Not one bit.
Though, this is not to say that repentance is unimportant. After all, the theme of repentance occurs numerous times in Scripture. Even Christ reminded a crowd that “Unless you repent, you will all perish” in Luke 13:5.
Again, this is scary.
But, real repentance is not a threat. It is an invitation to allow more of God’s goodness into ourselves by giving up the fight to hide our sinfulness. Repentance allows God to dig through our bulky, embarrassing baggage that we’ve been hiding or avoiding. This is a step towards more growth, so that we may thrive. And, this is far from a command to cower before an angry throne.
After all, we all know that we are sinners already. But it is when we are ready to admit this and move on, through repentance, that we grow and bear the fruit. And this kind of repentance is not scary. It is lovely.
Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’