Repentance always seemed pretty straightforward to me—essentially an apology to God for things that I have done and there is an implied intention to make a course correction.
But that is an incomplete understanding of what Jesus means. Look at Jesus’ first recorded use of the word “repent.”
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near,” he states in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
The Kingdom of heaven is near? What does that mean? Was he telling people the end of the world was right around the corner?
The Lord’s prayer answers both the question of what Jesus meant and illustrates the deeper meaning of “repent” and “repentance.” Jesus teaches us to pray “…Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus urges us to pray for the emergence of the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, here on Earth. And for that to happen, Jesus knows, we must repent.
But that means we must do more than apologize to God for actions that we regret.
As the scholar and theologian Marcus J. Borg points out, “repent” meant something more to the early Christian community. And so it means more to us today.
The roots of the Greek word for repentance mean “to go beyond the mind you have.” The Greek, such a key language for accurately translating the New Testament, more closely reflects what those who actually heard Jesus speak understood him to mean when he spoke to them.
“Go beyond the mind you have,” Jesus is saying, “because the Kingdom of heaven is near.”
Only by going beyond the mind we have—going beyond the normal Earthly way of thinking about things, the normal Earthly way of doing things—can we apprehend and comprehend the real possibilities of the Kingdom of heaven here and now, as Jesus wishes we would.
When we repent, when we go beyond the mind we have, then we can truly bear fruit to help bring the Kingdom of a loving God into the world. And we can help others to bear the fruitful promise of their own lives.
When we go beyond the mind we have then we do not simply cut down fig trees because they are not bearing fruit. When we go beyond the mind we have then we discover previously unthought of ways to care for that fruitless tree instead of chopping it down, ways to tend its needs and nurture the soil around it so that it might bear fruit.
In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus clearly intends the tree to represent human beings who need and deserve care and compassion to enable them to bear fruit and contribute to the Kingdom of heaven.
People like you and me.
God always sees so much more in us, and those around us, than we ever see in ourselves. Understanding that truth enriches not only the soil of our own lives but also that of the people with whom we share this earth.
With Jesus as our arborist, we cannot help but bear fruit. That, after all, is what fruit trees do.
Knock, knock and knock again on the door.
Jesus will surely answer in ways that may not be immediately visible but will bear fruit some day through our faithful perseverance, when the time is just right, when the world—perhaps one single person—needs us most.