1/26/14 Repaintence

Isaiah 8:23-9:3, I Corinthians 1:10-13,17, Matthew 4:12-17

Jack, the painter, often would thin his paint so it would go further. So when the Catholic Church in town decided to do some maintenance on the steeple, Jack was able to put in the low bid, and got the job. As always, he thinned his paint way down with turpentine.

One day while he was up on the scaffolding -- the job almost finished – Jack heard a horrendous clap of thunder, and the sky opened with a deluge of rain.

The downpour washed the paint off the church and knocked Jack off his scaffold and onto the lawn among the cemetery gravestones and puddles of worthless paint.

Jack knew this was a warning from the Almighty, so he got on his knees and cried: “Oh, God! Forgive me! What should I do?”

And from the thunder, a mighty voice: “REPAINT, YOU THINNER! REPAINT, AND THIN NO MORE!”

I heard this joke years ago and I have to be honest and tell you that from that time forward, whenever I come across a bible verse with the word “repent” in it, this is the first thing I think of. 


Repentance is a woefully misunderstood word in the Christian tradition. My Protestant childhood memories are of TV evangelists waving the Bible about with a loud voice declaring that failure to repent for sins is a sure ticket to hell. If you grew up Catholic, perhaps your impression of repentance was: “Fall on your knees, confess your sins, beg for forgiveness of Christ your Savior. Purgatory or hell awaits the unrepentant sinner.”

Today we find Jesus at the very beginning of his public ministry. With John having been imprisoned, it is time for Jesus to take over the message that John began.  John had gone about saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Jesus says the same thing. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Or, as our inclusive lectionary reading puts it: “Change your hearts and minds, for the kin-dom of heaven is at hand.”

The Gospel writers in the late first century used Greek to express the Jewish ideas that Jesus taught form his knowledge of Hebrew scriptures.  Metanoia is the word that they put on Jesus’ lips to express repentance. 

The definition of the word metanoia is "to have another mind," “to go beyond the mind we currently have.”  It is equivalent to the Hebrew word for repent, te-shuvah, which simply means to turn and go in a different direction.  John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles, all use the word “repent” with this idea of a change in thought and actions.

As children, we naturally acquire a way of seeing shaped by what we have learned. The religion, politics, prejudices and traditions of our families and communities become our own. Few people escape this influence. So to go beyond the mind that we have means seeing in a new way. When the Bible speaks of repenting for sins, the emphasis is on turning from those things that separate us from God. Repentance is about change. To repent means to turn, to go beyond the mind that we have and see things differently. Repentance is the path that leads to spiritual transformation.

In Matthew’s telling of the story, Jesus begins his ministry by announcing that his primary focus is repentance. “Change your hearts and minds, for the kin-dom of heaven is at hand.” He would say this over and over in his teachings and demonstrate it again and again in his actions.  The journey with God is all about the continual process of change: Changing hearts and minds so as to change the way our lives end up.  We want to end up whole in soul and free in spirit.  For Jesus, the human journey to this wholeness is metanoia.   Repentance is a way of being.

It seems very important for us to let go of the old negative burden of thinking of repentance as painful and punitive.  Instead, we can choose to take up the positive definition of repentance. The Christian tradition has been fiercely resistant to allowing change in our ancient doctrinal understandings and liturgical ways of expressing how we understand God working among us. We are longing to become all that we were created to be: carriers of the image of God in a world that we understand to be constantly in process of change. Allowing our minds to be changed, having the courage to turn and go in a new direction as Spirit leads us is the path of freedom in the spiritual life.

Repentance is both an individual journey and a communal challenge.  This was the way it was for the first century Church. The teachings of Jesus resulted in metamorphosis of the Jewish understanding of God and ways of being in community.  Changes have continued throughout centuries of Christian life, reformations of the Church, and now religious pluralism.

In this community, Lumen Christi, we are engaged in “repenting” of the way the Church’s old language misrepresents the God we are coming to know through the revelations opened to us by scientific advances in knowledge. We are daring to change our hearts and minds, to widen our perspectives, to turn and go in a different direction as we live renewal into the Christian tradition. This is not an easy thing or a comfortable thing.  But thank God we are in it together!

One more thing: talking about repentance is not really complete without acknowledging that spiritually, repentance is connected with the idea of sin. Repentance is most commonly associated by Christians with sin and forgiveness. Sin is a topic that is way too complex to cover in this homily… so how about we put it off until we can deal with it in the context of the beatitudes, which we will read next week. Come back for another exciting episode.

  Meanwhile, repaint, you thinner!

by Sandi DeMaster