Blessed Are They Who Repent, for They Shall Be Forgiven
From God’s “lenience” towards those who repent in the first reading to praising God for He is “good and forgiving” in the Responsorial Psalm; from the Holy Spirit’s intercession for us “with inexpressible groanings” in the second reading to the apocalyptic image of all evildoers who persist in their evil way being thrown into “the fiery furnace” in the gospel; repentance as a theme navigates its way masterfully through this Sunday’s readings with persuasiveness and coherence (Wis 12:18, Ps 86:5, Rm 8:26, Mt 13:42).
Everywhere we turn in the Bible, we hear good news. No wonder St. Paul wants us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). Not feeling well today? Rejoice! Hurt by people’s harsh and unfair criticism? Rejoice! Covid-19 pandemic? Rejoice! No matter what injustices, miseries, and misfortunes “the principalities…the powers…the world rulers of this present darkness” manage to pull out of their sleeves to throw at us, we must not stop rejoicing. For the battle against them has already been won (cf. 1 Cor 15:57, Rev 20:9-10)! God is firmly in control and will always be, even if this world of injustices and tribulations sometimes may suggest otherwise. The Bible is full of good news that work either individually, or collectively, or interchangeably to enable those whose hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit – the author of the Bible – to embrace without wavering this important understanding. And if they are truly able to do that, how can they not rejoice in the Lord always?
So, what is the good news this Sunday? First and foremost, the good news is that we are able to repent; and the Lord, who is “good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all”, will forgive our sins because of Christ (Ps 86:5).
Wait! Isn’t repentance an option available to us always? Why has it become good news all of a sudden?
True, we have always been able to repent if and when we choose to do so. But before the coming of Christ, repentance alone, no matter how genuine, was insufficient to garner forgiveness for our sins. Christ’s saving grace, accomplished through his passion, death, and resurrection, has completely changed the whole cosmic picture. It is truly an unprecedented and monumental accomplishment. Its completion is a watershed moment, if you will, that has altered the whole order of creation through and through, including the very act of repentance. Before, repentance was just that – a human sentiment, even if good and righteous. After, if we repent, our sins will be forgiven. And Jesus is the sole reason for the difference. He is the only Mediator between God and men, as prefigured by Jacob’s vision of the stairway connecting heavens and earth (1 Tim 2:5, Genesis 28:12, John 1:51). He is, in his own words, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
For repentance to be acceptable to God, it needs to come straight from the heart. “A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn” (Ps 51:19). But since human hearts are often bursting with pride, we need the Spirit to “come to the aid of our weakness” (Rom 8:26). He knows our every weakness and searches for our every sin - even the most elusive ones hiding either knowingly or unknowingly in the darkest corners of our hearts. He “intercedes with inexpressible groanings”, transforming our hearts and moving us to repent and confess (Rom 8:26, CCC 2739).
The theme of repentance culminates in Jesus’ apocalyptic message for “all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” (Mt. 13:41). They are the stiff-necked people who fail to repent, the “weeds” that grow together with the wheat in the field until harvest (c.f. Mt. 13:24-30). Their fate is to be tied up by the harvesters “in bundles for burning” in “the fiery furnace” (Mt. 13:30, 42).
The realization that God will forgive if we repent fills our hearts with hope and thankfulness. Jesus’ stern warning of the end-of-the-age judgement and the apocalyptic image of “the fiery furnace” where the evildoers “will be wailing and grinding of teeth”, on the other hand, shake us to the core of our being (Mt. 13:42). We must seriously re-examine how we live.