Today was a perfect storm on 'repentance' in my readings. We have moved on to Joel this week, so we are on 2:12-19 today. The last two days are the same words we read on Ash Wednesday. It is all about "returning" to God, the Hebrew expression for repentance. The Jewish Bible uses the image of journey (Exodus is the Big One, but think of Abraham, Jacob, Moses; travel is a model for Luke in his Gospel as Jesus heads to Jerusalem and His destiny) and to obey God is "to walk in His ways." Hence, to betray God is "to wander off" the path. To travel the the wrong direction requires that we "turn around" and go back to God. Joel talks about a two way "turning" and "repentance"--if we repent and turn back, he says, perhaps God will do the same.
Repentance is expressed in the heart: it includes fasting and mourning. It is a core orientation towards God. The Gospel, Lk 15:1-10, emphasizes the points made by Joel. God is the one who is jealous for His people and takes pity on them. This is because, Jesus explains in His parable of the lost sheep and lost coin, "there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than ninety-nine not needing to repent." God, it appears, is hungry for salvation!
In the Philokalia (Eastern Orthodox collection of Ancient Church writings) I read two excerpts from Peter of Damascus on Repentance. He reminds us not to despair though we sin the same way each day. Keep God's mercy in mind, for God will save the one who is sorry for his/her sins, even if they are too weak to conquer them. In the East, sin is best understood as a 'disease' in need of the Divine Physcian. Healing and Health are the same as salvation; the word in Greek means both. The realization that repentance, returning to our relationship with God, is fundamentally a response to God's initiative, brings us full circle to the core of Christian faith. We are saved by grace, and that salvation is activated by our trust and repentance.
No despair, only trust and repentance and joy in response to His love and mercy. Each day, every day. .