Sunday, May 14, 2006

Forgive, Yes; Repent, No

"Repent! The end is near!!"

There is an emphasis on forgiveness among Christians, but little on repentance. When I think of repentance, I hear that phrase in my head, as if it is a notion for wackos only, those people who assault our eardrums and our lives as we hurry past in a quest for the real things that matter.

How often do we think it applies to us when a Minister or Pastor has the temerity to speak of repentance in the pulpit? I'm not talking about the mealymouthed let's-all-get-along and make-up-with-our-brother message, but the message that we will pay if we do not repent, that challenges our complacency and makes us wriggle in the pew. For me, it's rare to hear the latter kind of message. I heard one Minister drone on about reconciling with our brother (as those in the pews nodded as if they truly understood what real reconciliation requires of them) but there was no ringing challenge to repent the wrongs we did to our brother that caused the fall-out in the first place. Now, some of us sitting there would've been the "brother" who was wronged, but others needed to get jarred out of their rationalizatons that justified their bad behaviour. They needed to be made very uncomfortable. Yet their rationalizations were safe, and so was their reputation, for if they're really good at rationalizing, they'd have gotten others to be sympathetic to their side and even convinced themselves of the rightness of their behaviour. So often we turn on the victim, demanding to know why they haven't forgiven, accuse them of holding a grudge, and blame them for the implosion of the family; instead, we ought to turn on the bully and demand to know why he did what he did, see the truth of their behaviour and words, counter every rationalization, then challenge him to repent. But we don't. We may say it's not our business, yet we have no trouble leaning on the victim to forgive, to take the high road. What it comes down to is that we fear confronting the bully -- or our own transgressions -- and because we fear, we ignore that passage in Matthew 5 where Jesus says:

"23 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

25 Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.

26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."

We probably also fear that if we demand the instigator of the family breakdown repent, then we will have to search our own souls for "forgotten" bad behaviour, perhaps our own role in the breakdown, and also humble ourselves and seek forgiveness from the persons we have wronged. But as Jesus pointed out in verse 26, we will not get away with it.

Most people I know do not believe his admonition. They believe they will get away with it. Or perhaps they just turn their face away from the truth in verses 23 to 26, especially 26, as it's just too uncomfortable, and neither believe nor disbelieve Jesus.

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