Repenting From Fear to Trust (Matthew 4: 17)
In Matthew’s fourth chapter we come across what you might call the very first word in Jesus’ very first sermon, Repent! Which means at base “to turn around.” And so the gospel, “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent,’ for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” We might well ask the question of Jesus: repent from what – and turn around to what?
To get at that, let me tell a story of a turnaround that happened in a relationship between a son and his mother. For years, the son had the impression that his mother’s love was what you might call conditional; he thought her all-important love and regard for him depended on how he behaved. If he did the right thing in her eyes, that’s what would unlock her heart towards him. If he didn’t, he thought he’d be locked out. Again, he in his heart he felt that if he didn’t please her by what he did, she’d cut him off, send him out into some kind of emotional Siberia. And for sure, there were many times when he didn’t please her. And he would always read her displeasure as banishment, the thing he feared above all else.
But gradually, working through some very hard times and conflicts, he came to realize he had been picking up the wrong message. For the truth was that whether he did right or wrong, she still loved him, that in the end whether he was on her good side of bad side her love was still there. Of course she was always more pleased when he “behaved.” But he came to see and be convinced that even when he went off track her love was still there, was always there.
This was what in his mind he called the great turnaround. “The conviction that I can have confidence in her love for me, in good times and bad, when I’m winning and when I’m losing, when I’m a success and when I fail, when I’m good and when not so good. It’s always there and will always be there. I know this doesn’t mean permission to mess up. But it does mean there’s a constant love there, one I can always depend on, in season and out.”
What a turnaround, what a switch in underlying attitude, not only toward his mother but towards all the other loves in his life. “Down deep, I don’t have to be afraid of that cut-off. I can trust.” You might call this his kind of repentance, his kind of turning around.
It’s something like this kind of repentance that Jesus is preaching. “Turn around in your basic attitude towards God, my Father. Don’t fear God, trust God. Don’t think the bottom line of your relationship with God is conditional — if you do this I’ll love you and if you don’t I’ll cut you off.”
Centuries before, the Jewish people heard this same assurance in Ps 27, often recited in the responsorial of the Mass. “The Lord is my light and salvation; whom should I fear. The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid.”
Other ways to say that:
- If I can open my heart up to believe that what God wants most is my coming into the light, my healing and my salvation, I can begin to get past some of that fear.
- If I can let myself trust that the true refuge of my life is The Lord, what else really is there to be afraid of?
- If I can lean back on the love of God for me as unconditional, then those night time terrors of being exiled and cut off forever begin to lose some of their edge.
To the extent I can give myself over to an inner conviction that the Lord’s place of refuge is indeed rock hard, — the most solid thing there is — then I can be more free. And in turn more available for living out what’s best in my life.
Someone once called this belief in the ‘no-matter-whatness’ of God, a much stronger version of that ‘no-matter-whatness’ the son came to feel from his mother.
This is the fundamental repentance Jesus is preaching. “Trust in the love of my Father. Cast your care on the Lord. No matter what, God’s compassion and care is there.” Even to the point where, at Jesus’ own torturous death, He can say, “Into your loving hands, I commend my spirit.”
And doesn’t Vincent echo this same kind of bedrock assurance in the counsel he sends to a troubled individual. “I wish you a young heart and a love in its first bloom for Him Who loves us unceasingly and as tenderly as if He were just beginning to love us. For all God’s pleasures are ever new and full of variety, although He never changes.”
Back to the saving conviction of Psalm 27: “Whom should I fear. The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Toward the end of that psalm comes the indicator and testimony that real repentance has actually taken hold: “I believe I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. I wait for the Lord with courage. Confident in God’s love, I try my best to be stouthearted and wait for the Lord.