God is love, not vengeance.

By Msgr. John Wynand Katende

Luke 3:4-14 begins his account of the ministry of Jesus by presenting John the Baptist as inviting the people to repent, to turn again to God and to show their desire to do this by being baptized (a symbolic washing). John is seen as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in which there is a call to remove every obstacle that might stand in the way of God showing his salvation to his people. The Advent season, preparation for the coming of Jesus, is characterized with the theme of repentance.

The true meaning of repentance is about leaving aside anything that might blind us to what God wants for us, and opening ourselves to something new and wonderful, namely, God coming in the person of his Son. The purple color of Advent is not of mourning but of joyful anticipation and change. Without repentance, however, the season of Christmas can simply slide into an excuse for merrymaking.

We tend to link penance or repentance to a belief that if someone has done something wrong, then later they must suffer in order to makes up for the past. Penance is also usually associated with justice. It depicts God as a strict record keeper of our sins. If sinners do not pay in this life, then ‘divine justice’ will get them in the end. They end up in hell. But is this view falls short of what Christians hold as their story of God’s dealing with humanity.

When the prophets call people to repentance, they assert that the people are supposed to start looking forward not backwards. To repent is to start anew, to make sure that the former ways disappear, that a new way of living appears. Repentance is change so that in the future one can see the salvation of God.

To say humanity had sinned and needed a redeemer is to look forward. God’s justice was not the destruction of the sinful people, but to send his Son. When Jesus came he was not here to punish for the past, but to be the redeemer who would open up the future after sin and its effects. Jesus calls us to a new way of living, not to account for the past.

“The church is not a hotel for saints, it is a hospital for sinners.” says Saint Augustine. When the church has preached penitence, it is as a medicine to train the person in a new way of living. God is love, not vengeance. This reflects prophet Ezekiel 18:32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live”.

Christians must learn to prepare for the coming of the Savior by looking forward and seeing repentance as starting afresh with God’s love. They are called to believing that God gives a new future to those who turn to a new way of thinking, living, acting and loving. They are called to follow the Christ who brought the Father’s love to dwell among us. They are called to become like him in their lives. As there is no place for vengeance for the past in God’s dealing with us;

there must be a similar desire to let people start over again among us. This is what we pray: ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’

We see Jesus’s way of looking forward in what he said to the woman the Pharisees wanted to stone as payment for her past: ‘Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’ (John 8:11). Our task was to set out into the future by starting a new way of living.

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