We sometimes live our spiritual lives like we are driving a car with cruise control. We believe in the basics of our faith, but then take our feet off the gas pedal and say: “Look, look, I’m still a good person. I don’t need to learn new things about the Bible.” We feel that the speed we are going at seems just fine. Maybe we then start to take one hand off the wheel by skipping our daily prayers or not praying at all and say “Look, look, I’m still making good decisions in life.”
We then might end up taking the other hand off and start to drive down the highway of life with our feet nowhere near the gas or brake pedals and our hands nowhere near the steering wheel and we say “look, look.” But if we do not hold on to the wheel and remind ourselves that our spiritual lives cannot be lived in cruise control then we will not be on that spiritual highway for very long.
We heard in today’s Gospel: “Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” (Matthew 4:17)
Many people have understand the word ‘repent’ in different ways. One way to understand this rich word is by understanding how cruise control works. We are full of exciting features just like any new car. But despite all these features we always have to keep our eyes on the road and our hands on the steering wheel. We always have to be careful and we can never completely let go of the steering wheel.
We may be a talented athlete or singer, we might really excel in school, we might be very successful at work or other aspects of our life, but these will not endure if we take our hands off the steering wheel.
Professional athletes and singers practice for hours not because they are not good but because they want to make sure they are the best they can be. They are the best in their field because they are willing to spend ten hours a day to make sure that their performance is as close to perfect as possible.
We can say the same about our faith. The saints are great examples for us. They spent many hours a day praying, they spent many hours a day reading the Bible or spiritual books, and they put great effort into repenting of every thought or action that is not consistent with being a follower of Jesus.
They did not spend many hours praying because they were bad people but because they wanted to be better people.
They did not spend many hours reading and studying the Bible because they did not know what was in it, but because they wanted to see how their lives can better reflect what is in it.
They did not put great effort into repenting of every thought or action because they had so many of them but because they knew that even the smallest thought or action if allowed to grow will have a negative impact on their lives and decrease the intensity of their love for Jesus.
We should enjoy our talents and accomplishments, but even small faults can undermine everything. For example, ask people who smoke how they started and many will say “I just wanted to try it once but then got hooked.”
Ask someone how he or she became an alcoholic or developed an addiction to gambling and they will say “That first time was so enjoyable.”
Ask anyone who has ruined their lives and the lives of their family because of infidelity “What happened?” and they will tell you “It started so innocently.”
The word ‘gospel’ means good news and the good news of Jesus Christ is that we all need to repent. As we start a new year, it is important for us to think of the word ‘repent’ in a very positive way.
We are superstar athletes, we are master musicians, we are top scholars, we are successful in every aspect of our life, we are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are more brilliant and more holy than we have a capacity to appreciate. But, that whole world of ours could easily crumble if we do not turn away from even what we may consider to be small sins and ‘repent.’
Cruise control is a great and exciting invention but if it is not used correctly we will hurt ourselves and others. Spiritual cruise control is even more dangerous because even after we do much damage we are sometimes blind of what we have done.
Sometimes we get distracted and sometimes we swerve but the word ‘repent’ reminds us that to get to our destination we have to keep our feet near the gas and brake pedals in order to learn wisdom, our hands on the steering wheel in order to remain firm in our intentions, and our eyes on the road in order to stay inspired by the good that we want to accomplish.
Today in addition to all the wonderful things we are doing let us also look for and ‘repent’ of any harm we may have done to ourselves or to others.
When we find the courage to ‘repent’ let us rejoice because when we repent we are not saying that we are bad people but are saying that with God’s help we can be so much better.