The Joy of Repentance

How can joy follow repentance? Most of us think of shame when we think of repentance. Yet, Scripture often gives examples of how joy follows a sincere change of heart.

Today’s readings (Nov. 18, 2014) from daily Mass are a case in point. In the first reading from the book of Revelation(Chap. 3:1-6,14-22), both messages to the communities of Sardis and Laodicea are sharp rebukes from the Lord Jesus. To the latter church, Jesus offers a challenge. He shatters their complacency and their self-reliance, with shocking words;

I know your works, I know that you are neither cold nor hot… because you are lukewarm… I will spit you out of my mouth.” -Rev. 3:15-16

Stark imagery! Later, he comforts them with these words;

Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest therefore and repent.” -Rev. 3:19

What makes these words of challenge and comfort all the more significant, is that they set up one of the most beautiful and important passages in all the New Testament.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me.” –Rev. 3:20

These words have resounded through the ages and brought countless souls into communion with Christ and His Church.

In ancient Israel, to dine with someone was to invite them into friendship and intimacy. We’re being invited into a deeper relationship with Jesus and it must start with an honest acknowledgement of our failings and weaknesses. Jesus is knocking at the door of our hearts, our very lives.

The Gospel reading for today, taken from Luke 19:1-10, is the story of Zacchaeus. Many of us know this tale of the Jewish tax collector, shunned by his contemporaries for his collaboration with the Roman empire and his subsequent ill-gotten gain. Zacchaeus is part of a crowd that has gathered in Jericho to see this famous holy man. The trouble is, he is too short to see Jesus! Running ahead, he finds a sycamore tree, climbs it and to his amazement, gets Jesus to notice him. When Jesus announces that he will eat at his house that day, the tree climber returns to earth, and soon after proclaims in what must have been a moment of ecstasy, that he will give half of his money to the poor as a sign of his… repentance. We can only assume that a wonderful meal followed.

Eating together. In Revelation 3:20, it’s everyone who “opens the door” to Jesus that’s invited to the table. In Luke, it’s the transformed Zacchaeus. At every Mass, this is what we do who receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We acknowledge our sins at the beginning of the liturgy, as Zacchaeus did his. We listen to the Word of God as did the Jewish tax collector. Lastly, like our ‘short brother,’ we’re invited to partake of His sacred meal. A greater and more beautiful intimacy than this, you cannot find in all the world.

At one point in my one-man performance, “A Visit With St. Paul,” I address my audience;

Brothers and sisters, do you realize how much you are loved? Your Creator loves you and wants to remove every obstacle that stands between you and the truth. That’s why I preach the gospel of repentance, echoing the words of Jesus himself, who at the beginning of his mission proclaimed, ‘Repent and believe the good news!’ ”

Whether you’re unhappy with yourself or the circumstances of your life, or you know that you’re not the person you want to be; if you’re ‘lukewarm’ and in danger of being spat out of your Savior’s mouth; if you’re “too short” to see Jesus and you need to “climb a tree,” then the Word of God invites you today to enter into the joy of repentance… which might even lead you to the sacrament of Reconciliation.

May we open the door of our hearts to the Jesus who knocks! If we let him enter, then like Zacchaeus, we too will enter into His joy.