Sunday, January 23, 2011

Metanoia: Matthew 3: 1-12

If you read the first 12 verses of Matthew 3, you'll see some version of the word "repent" 3 different times.  John's very first word in the gospel of Matthew, in fact, is "Repent." It's the same proclamation Jesus will begin with in his ministry at 4:17: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

What do we mean by repentance today? I would say the term has two parts, or maybe steps: first, an acknowledgement of having done wrong; and second, a rejection of that pattern of behavior.  I repent my sins; I'm sorry for them, and I'm not living that way anymore. A renunciation.

In the original Greek, the word is "metanoia", and it meant a change of mind or heart about something.  In other words, a conversion, a transformation.  Not that different from repentance, really, but fuller.  It's not just a stepping back from a precipice, or climbing back up a hill. It involves us coming more fully into being, becoming more fully human.  

The paradox of sin: we're warned by Scripture, by family, by cautionary tales, don't do X or Y.  And sometimes we heed those words, and sometimes we don't.  But the actual experience of sinning -- and by this I mean not simply breaking an abstract rule, but experiencing the damage which that break causes in the lives of oneself and others -- becomes an occasion for self-awareness, humility and transformation.  So often it's when we see ourselves for what we really are that we actually are open to change.

Trying to be a good person after you've done wrong looks just the same as it did before, but it's different, because we're not the same people we were  before we did the deed and faced all that came with it.  We're different.  Metanoia: Change! Open!


M Russell said...

Father Jim,
Have you seen the little film, "Bella"? It is a great example of this concept of Metanoia, and I believe the production group even called themselves Metanoia. I found the movie to be excellent in so many ways, and highly recommend it.
Thanks for the post. Michelle

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

Thanks, Michelle! I have not seen the film, but I am going to add it to my list right now! Thanks for the suggestion!

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