There were seven children in my family. As was true for most of the people I knew, money was tight and my mother was always telling us to share. Food, toys, clothes, even beds – everything had to be shared. I remember thinking it was a great imposition that forced my parents’ ideas of fairness on me. I saw no benefit to me from all this sharing.
Then I had the good luck to be chosen the fifteenth boy on our fifteen boy seventh grade basketball team. Sharing became a different matter. Our coach constantly shouted, “Pass the ball; don’t hog it.” “Look,” he’d say, “if you keep the ball to yourself, we’re going to lose. While you’re having a great time dribbling around, other people with open shots can’t take because you’ve got the ball. Share the ball; pass it around!” Not even I could miss the point. Sharing made sense after all.
When someone tries to convince us that we should change this or that behavior, we often hear them simply trying to impose their ideas of good behavior on us. That can be what we hear when the Church repeats John the Baptist’s call to repent. The message sounds like Shape up and act like you’re supposed to because God is coming to clean house. That is not the point.
Repent, when it occurs in the gospels, encourages us to live with courageous love and justice. It tells us that we’re capable of accomplishing great things with God. To live self-centered lives, taking for ourselves what’s needed by others because we fear for our security denies us and the world we inhabit the gift that God offers.
Repent reminds us that God is making something wonderful possible. Repent encourages us to take advantage of the opportunity to work with God. Repent proclaims that we can live for the world we long for not the one we think we have to settle for. Repent dares us to risk ourselves for a world of hope rather hide in a comfortable world that betrays God’s love and our future.
Repent, in the gospels, assumes that we want to change things. It’s an encouragement, not a threat.