The imagery of fishermen is often used in literature that is promoting vocation to the religious life. ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’ (Matthew 4:19). Jesus proclaimed: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (4:17), and that ‘mission statement’ echoes what John the Baptist had already proclaimed (3:2).
In the Old Testament, repentance generally leads to salvation, and brings forgiveness of sins. Among some Christian Churches since the Reformation, there has been a strong emphasis on repentance in their teachings. Beyond the Judeo-Christian traditions, the preaching of repentance is also prominent in other world religions especially in Islam and Buddhism.
In some cases, it is not only individuals who repent; repentance can also involve the whole community or the whole nation. The issues concerned, past or present, may necessitate a collective response.
In the spirit of the Gospel, repentance is understood as more than feeling bad about what we have done or not done. Nor is it simply having regrets at what was misguided or misjudged and is not just about remorse, penance and guilt. Yes, that ‘G word’, guilt which some modern-day counsellors and psychologists are eager to steer people away from.
A more holistic way of repenting is to acknowledge our failings and shortcomings with the resolve to move beyond them. It is also a way to take stock of our strengths and abilities. For followers of Jesus, it is a course of action working toward reconciliation with God and with the people who have been offended. It is a move to conversion, to a more Christ-like and God-centred life, guided by the Spirit.
With patience, determination and humility, repentance is a focused action that calls for starting again, turning around, changing direction, and re-orienting one’s mindset and attitude.
Repentance is a re-creation of our lives in God’s grace, love and hope. It is a way to realise the Kingdom of God in our midst and in our lives, in the here and now, and to pursue a way of life worthy of the Kingdom on our pilgrimage to the world to come.