In Jewish tradition, the word for the English word ‘repentance’ is ‘t’shuvah’ and it doesn’t really mean what we might typically think it means.
Like, in the New Testament when John the Baptist shouted “REPENT! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” and when Jesus told people to repent, what we often think of is that we need to turn away from our sin so that we won’t burn in hell.
We’re inherently evil.
We’re mess ups.
We blew it.
We did this.
We did that.
We need to shape up, turn around, and get it together.
“Turn or burn” is another popular phrase — repent of your sin or turn from your sin so that you don’t burn in hell for all of eternity. Change your ways. Change your thinking. Change your mind. Change your actions. Get with the program. Give your life to Jesus. Believe in Him. Accept Him as your Savior. Invite Him into your heart. Go to church. Attend Bible studies. Read Christian books. Listen to Christian radio. Stop cursing. Stop smoking.
… You get the idea.
And when I think about all of that stuff I can’t help but picture an angry guy.
On a soapbox.
In the middle of Times Square.
With a bullhorn.
Screaming at everyone who drives by.
Warning them to turn from their sin before it’s too late.
This isn’t how the original Jewish hearers would have understood the word t’shuvah. Not even close! Because to them t’shuvah had nothing to do with turning from sin so as to avoid hell, but everything to do with celebrating the fact that God had somehow and through some means made a person aware of his/her error and, thus, created a way back to the path they had lost.
(Read that again.)
T’shuvah had nothing to do with turning from sin so as to avoid hell, but everything to do with celebrating the fact that God had made a person aware of his/her error and, thus, created a way back to the path they had lost.
It wasn’t about having a good cry over wrong doing.
Or feeling bad about sin.
Or begging for forgiveness.
Or beating yourself up.
“I always do this.”
“I always mess things up.”
“I’m such a wretch.”
It was about the celebration of coming home again.
Yes — homecoming, that’s maybe the best way to put it. It wasn’t a word about feeling bad about every bad thing you’d ever done or every rotten thing you’d ever said, but a word about how the door is always open no matter where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or what you come home smelling like.
It’s a word that says …
“I know you don’t believe it. I know others have told you it’s not true. I know they’ve said God is disappointed and has turned a cold shoulder towards you. But the Truth is that you’re welcome — you’re welcome to come home. The door is wide, wide open.”
And so it’s a word that doesn’t make a whole lot sense coming from a guy on a soapbox with a bullhorn in the middle of Times Square, but a word that only makes sense coming from the smiling and teary-eyed Father, the Father …
Who refuses to leave His front porch until He sees the Lost Son coming home.
Who refuses to stop searching for the Lost Sheep who isn’t coming home on it’s own.
Who refuses to stop searching for the Lost Coin, an inanimate object that has no ability to come back on its own.
… A Father who waits for the son who will eventually find his way home, a Father who goes out and finds the sheep that will never come home on its own, a Father who never stops searching for the coin that is physically unable to make its way home again.
He waits for those who will come home.
He goes after those who will never come home on their own.
He searches for those who are unable to make it home on their own.
“Teshuva”, He whispers — “come home, I have everything ready for you. And if you can’t get here on your own, I’ll come and find you.”
More on the son, the sheep, and the coin images next time, but for now know that you’re always welcome to come home. Your Father left the porch light on for you, the door is unlocked, and He’s got dinner ready — He’s holding your spot at the Table.
Oh. And another thing, part of the root of t’shuvah is the Hebrew word “tov”, which means “good”. That should bring us to flashbacks of Genesis 1 where God created the universe and called it “tov” or “good”.
… And you.
Yes, you. Long before humanity messed it up in Genesis 3, God declared humanity to be good or tov in Genesis 1 and its from there, that inherent and deeply rooted place of goodness, that we need to learn to live our lives from. And when we don’t (when we wander off the path and mess it up and sin or slip up or whatever you want to call it), it’s then that we can t’shuvah, it’s then that we can come home again.
And so what this tells me is that repentance doesn’t begin with me understanding how evil and terrible I am, but with how inherently good God has created me to be and the fact that somehow and at some point I wandered off the path of my humanity and the calling that God has placed on my life and made my way into the weeds, but now understand and realize that I need to get back to business. And t’shuvah is what happens … it’s the thing that prompts me to apologize to the people I hurt, to confess my darkness to a friend, and to ask God to help me press forward into His light and love and desire to change the world by bringing heaven right here, right now.
Repentance is so much more beautiful when its looked at like this.
And we need to remember that THIS is how Jesus thought about the word because although the New Testament is written in Greek and although the Greek word for “repent” is “metanoia”, which means to “change ones mind” or “turn around” or “a transformative change of heart”, Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and so that Greek definition is far from complete if not looked at through the lens of ancient Jewish/Hebrew tradition.
That said — the door is open, my friends. So, come on home. The love you’re looking for, it’s already yours. The acceptance you long for, you already have. The Father is waiting up for you and keeping a plate warm for you in the oven.