The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 4:12-17
Did you know that the first word that the Lord Jesus ever preached was “Repent”? It seems like maybe this is a minor point but let’s try to wrap our minds around this for a moment.
God has been actively waiting for this moment since the foundation of the world. This very moment when His only Son would take flesh and be born of the holy Mother of God. All of the history of creation revolved around the coming of the Son of God and in that very moment we have to believe that the words that would come out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus were of extreme importance. He has been waiting for a very long time to address His own people. And what word did He choose to begin addressing and teaching all the people? “Repent!”
It is a powerful word. If He had only preached this one word it would be foundation enough for our spiritual struggle. The Lord Jesus Christ asks us, tells us, and commands us…..to repent. He commands us to take seriously the path that we are on and to take seriously the steps required to have a relationship with Him. Repentance is never ever easy. Often repentance is like trying to get rid of something that is a part of us. This is what the Lord meant when He said “if your right eye causes you to, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better for you to lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29).
Repentance or trying to correct our way of life and return to God might be difficult, it might even feel like trying to remove a part of you but in truth repentance is really about removing a spiritual tumor. This tumor lives in the heart and it steals away our energy and nutrients and attention. All of these things which should be directed to God are misplaced and misused in order to feed the tumor of sin and addictive behavior.
Repentance is not only a command, it is an invitation to a second chance at life. Not one of us is perfect, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God at some point in our lives. It is not where we start that matters. We are told that Our Lord sat at table with sinners. You see, He meets us wherever we are but He doesn’t allow us to get comfortable where we are. He needs us to throw off all filthiness, all unrighteousness, and all uncleanness of the heart. He wants us to choose Him and Him alone.
Once while speaking with a friend who had converted from a protestant background, he said something that amazed me. He said that when he was Protestant he never had the feeling that any work was required on his part. He was in a comfortable holding pattern. But after he became an Orthodox Christian and learned our genuine ways of spiritual life, everything changed. He sensed that he could never be content with where he was with God. He learned that we are consistently in a struggle to repent and to know God more intimately. Why? Because God is an infinite being who is an infinite source of love. It never gets old, never runs out. Life with God is dynamic not static.
In the last parish I served, I estimated that only 25 to 30% of the people ever came to confession. It is possible that this is because the others were without sin, but I doubt it. I also noticed that those who came to confess were usually the most active, most generous and the most at peace. What separated the two groups, those who confessed and those who hid their sins? Humility. I have to be humble enough to allow myself to be weak and vulnerable. I have to be humble enough to share my sins regardless of how I might appear in the process. What separates these two groups is humility and serious commitment.
For us repentance goes hand in hand with confession. Come to the priest who stands on behalf of the Lord and pour out your sins. Don’t leave anything back, give it all to God so that He might take those burdens away. Each sin is like a weight. Don’t try to carry all of that weight by yourself. That weight leads to additional sins, to dysfunctional relationships and to many forms of mental illness. In humility ask the Lord to take this weight for you. Start by confessing your sins at home, but finish the process here with the gift of confession. You will find that this humble act can actually help you change quite dramatically. It can help you progress more in the spiritual life than almost any other spiritual exercise we can undertake.
Confession is the act of repenting seriously and serious repentance is the beginning of a holy life. If sin is like a great tumor, confession is the surgery that Our Lord Jesus uses to cut out these imperfections and to leave us healthy and whole. But what if I have repented and confessed and I still fall into sin again and again, should I then quit trying? Not at all. Do we stop hunting if we miss on the first shot? Do we stop fishing when the fish jumps off the hook? No!
God doesn’t allow us to fall in order to discourage us. He allow us to fall in order to remind us that nothing can be achieved by our own power. Christ says “without Me you can do nothing.” He allows us to fall down to remind us to look up. Each one of us wants to be a saint. In order to become saints we have to translate hopes into actions. Each and every saint started their spiritual journey in the same way. They took the word of the Lord seriously. Repent, was the first word that the Lord Jesus ever preached. Let repentance be the first and most important step in your Christian life. And Glory be to God Forever, AMEN.