What repentance is about

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Third Sunday of Lent

When we meet with personal setbacks or tragedies, we often view these — as the Jews long before us — as punishments from God for the evil we did. Jesus debunks this “belief” in the first part of today's gospel (Lk. 13:1-9). People were then narrating to Jesus two recent incidents — first, Pilate's massacre of several Galileans for inciting to rebellion and second, the accidental death of those on whom a tower fell — expecting Him to attribute these tragedies to their sins.

In response, Jesus first raised two questions: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?” and “Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?.” Then He gave His definitive answer: “By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” In effect, Jesus told them that they were all sinners themselves and it was only God's goodness that prevented them from meeting the same fate. Thus He urged them to repent, to be converted.

Moreover, if that “belief” were true, what later befell Jesus in Jerusalem — His passion and death — would be attributed to the evils He had done, which is absolutely ridiculous since it was in obedience to His Father that He “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Thus the expression “God knows whom to punish” has no place in our Christian belief. For this speaks of a religion of fear rather than of love. Ours is a religion which, while it affirms that we are all sinners, nonetheless affirms God's readiness to forgive us if we but repent. And this because He is a God of mercy and love.

Now, how do we see ourselves before God? Do we realize that many of our personal weaknesses carry with them their own punishment? Thus, the dishonest person loses his job, the proud man is isolated from others, the hypocrite has no true friends, the person with a loose tongue is not trusted, the bad–tempered person drives away people, the habitual drunk gradually loses his health, the unreasonable parent loses the respect of his children, etc. Added to these are our own sins — which only we and God know.

Because of our sins and our inclination to sin, we are asked to repent, be converted. This means, first of all, that we admit our sinfulness before God and ask for His forgiveness. Put another way, conversion is to turn away from our life of sin and return to life with God.

But conversion does not stop there. It also means giving to God what is His due. This brings us to the second part of the gospel — the parable of the fig tree. The owner of an orchard went in search of fruits from his fig tree but found none. After three years of this he ordered the gardener to have the tree cut down. But he asked for another year and promised the owner that if after cultivating the ground and fertilizing the tree and it still bore no fruit, then he would cut it down.

The parable reminds me of the game of baseball or softball. If one swings the bat at the ball and misses three times, the umpire shouts, “Three strikes and you're out!” As was true of the owner of the fig tree, three is often our limit in forgiving injuries or tolerating failures. But not so with God; He continuously calls us to repentance.

Finally, Jesus demands fruits of repentance from those who heed God's call in the same manner that the owner expected fruits from his fig tree. And as he intended to cut the tree down if it bore no fruit, so does God warn us with judgment if our repentance do not bear fruits.

Repentance or conversion is thus not only about turning away from sin and returning to God but also about bearing fruits. It is not measured by the amount of tears we shed but by the fruits of a renewed life. More concretely, after having been converted, have we been more caring with our spouse, more understanding with our children, more responsive to the needs of others, more forgiving of people who have offended us and more respectful of people no matter their social status? These are some fruits of repentance that God expect from us.

God's loving mercy provides us many chances to repent and bear fruit. But if we remain obstinate, one of the many chances given us may be the last. Then God's judgment will be swift: “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me” (Mt. 25:41-43).

During Lent, we are given another opportunity to discover how we stand before God. Let us do so without delay as this may be our last chance.