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Speaking to the Soul: Practical Repentance

Speaking to the Soul: Practical Repentance

Week of Proper 20, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 80 (morning) // 77, [79] (evening)

Esther 4:4-17 or Judith 7:1-7,19-32

Acts 18:1-11

Luke [1:1-4];3:1-14

Before the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist went along the river Jordan proclaiming his “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” When reading today’s gospel, we might picture people weeping and beating their breasts as they wade, utterly repentant, into the baptismal waters. But it seems that what John means by “repentance” is not some emotional discharge of guilt and shame. Rather, to repent is to rectify inequality and the injustices that could otherwise benefit us.

According to Luke’s gospel, John’s preaching and baptism of repentance fulfills the prophet Isaiah’s call to fill valleys, to lower mountains, and to straighten out whatever is crooked. When the crowds ask John more specifically, “What then should we do?”, John gives them very specific instructions: Anyone who has two coats must share with someone who has none. Anyone who has extra food must share with the hungry. As for people like tax collectors and soldiers who are in a position to take more than their share of this world’s goods, John tells them not to overcharge or extort others.

For John the Baptist, to repent is to repair the discrepancies in wealth that delay the day proclaimed by Isaiah, when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” This repentance is more corporate than personal, more practical than emotional. But this type of repentance, which transfers the world’s excess to those in need, and which satisfies people with just and transparent compensation, may be the very best preparation for the kingdom of God.

Lora Walsh blogs about the Daily Office readings at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with adult formation and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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[jay– please sign your comments with first and last name as per our guidelines. thanks]

I think John was talking about both, Guilt and shame and also Injustices of inequality. But he pointed out each particular groups failings. Which in themselves made them guilty and in need of repentance and baptism.

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