True Repentance

“Let all pray with fervour to God, and let them abandon their wicked ways and the injustice they practice.” (Jonah 3.8b Revised English Bible)

I note that most other translations (including the REB’s ancestor the New English Bible) have ‘violence’ rather than ‘injustice’, although I would argue that injustice is a form of violence.

These are the words of the King of Nineveh. In the story of Jonah, after Jonah has been swallowed by the fish and given three days to think over his situation, he repents of his disobedience and goes to Nineveh to warn them of the oncoming judgement. No doubt he hopes they won’t repent—after all, they are Israel’s enemies and he’d love to see God wipe them out! But to his surprise they listen to what he has to say, and they repent and turn to God. I love the way the author of Jonah spells out what repentance means: praying with fervour to God, abandoning our wicked ways and our injustice/violence.

Our Canadian Book of Alternative Services liturgy regularly asks us to tell God ‘we humbly repent’. The danger of this is that we can fall into the trap of thinking that just by saying the words ‘we repent’, we have in fact repented. But of course, if we haven’t actually done anything about it, we haven’t really repented. Feeling sorry is not the issue. Changing the way we act is the issue.

So it might be a good start for us to ask ‘What evil ways do I need to abandon this Lent? What acts of violence/injustice?’ Remember that ‘evil ways’ can include good things we’ve neglected to do, as well as bad things we’ve done. Note also that acts of injustice and violence are often social sins we’re implicated in by our participation in the political/economic machine, so unravelling them can be a challenge. Also, since abandoning an evil act generally means replacing it with a good practice, what are the good practices I need to take up to replace the old ways?

Merciful God, grant to each of us this Lent a true repentance, that we may abandon wickedness, violence and injustice, and follow with you the way of compassion, justice, and love. Amen.

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