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Saint Matthew
Catholic Church

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On Conversion


Author: H.E. Bishop Bawai Soro

REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL


"In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'"

Matthew 3:1-2
The Prodigal Son

As we approach the Season of Lent, a key aspect of the Christian life is conversion (also called repentance). This means to turn away from sin, to "throw off the works of darkness (and) put on the armor of light," as Saint Paul put it, to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" instead. (Romans 13:12-14) Conversion means changing one's life and allowing Christ, not sin, to live in one's heart and mind.

The theme of repentance echoes in the words of John the Baptist and of Jesus. John, in the desert, preached repentance and accompanied his call with a baptism by water. Jesus, coming out of the desert just after having fasted for forty days and been tempted by the devil, used the same words as John: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 4:17)

Repentance for sin in the teaching of John and Jesus was not new. On countless occasions in the Old Testament, sinners were called upon to repent lest disaster fall on them. Those who repented were spared the wrath of God. Those who persisted in their evil were destroyed. King David repented before the Lord when he realized the evil of what he had done to Uriah the Hittite, (cf. 2 Samuel 12:13) and the Lord made his line that from which would spring the Messiah. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not repent and their cities were destroyed. (Genesis 19:24) But when Jonah preached a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh they were spared because they repented. (cf. Jonah 3:10) The Ninevites answered the call to conversion.

In the gospels, the necessity and power of conversion and repentance show up time and again. Coming out of the desert, virtually the first words Jesus preached were about repentance. When he spoke to the woman caught in adultery, after those who would have stoned her had left "one by one," he forgave her sin and called upon her to let this experience bring about conversion in her life. "Go," Jesus said to her, and "from now on do not sin any more." (John 8:11) Jesus called the woman to conversion.

In his parables, Jesus used the image of the prodigal son and the loving father to teach about the need for conversion and also the need to be able to forgive. The son, who squandered his inheritance and fell upon hard times finally comes to his senses, and returns home to his father to admit his sin and to ask just to be treated as one of the hired workers. The father welcomes his son in love, rejoicing that he who was lost is found, who was dead is alive. (Luke 15:32) It is God who moves human hearts to seek his mercy, to repent of sin, to rejoice in forgiveness, and to change the course of their lives. Had he not responded to the movement of the Lord in his heart, the prodigal son would have starved to death in a foreign land, far from his nation and family and faith.

In that same chapter as part of another parable, Jesus teaches that "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance." (Luke 15:7)

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