O God, you will not scorn….
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me (Psalm 51).
On the scripture (Jonah 3:1-10) that the people of Nineveh took an honest look at their sinfulness and repented. But did they repent merely to avoid God’s punishment? Or did they actually feel remorse?
When we seek forgiveness only because we feel guilty, we’re repenting for selfish reasons. We’re protecting ourselves from the punishment of God and the disapproval of others. The central focus of our repentance is ourselves.
On the other hand, when we feel remorse, it’s because we care about our relationship with God and we care about those who’ve been affected by our sin. We’re alarmed by the damage we’ve caused. What matters most to us is that others are hurting. We feel deep regret that someone is suffering because of what we’ve done.
In Nineveh, the king decreed that everyone should “turn from his evil way.” He didn’t say they should stop doing evil. Turning from evil means moving in a new direction: the direction of goodness and holiness. It means changing our way of handling situations. It means altering the way we treat others.
God appreciated the actions and the attitudes of the Ninevites when they turned from their evil doings. True remorse is an attitude that causes us to take action. True remorse motivates us to give love to others as expiation for the times we behaved unlovingly. True remorse makes us do good to those we’ve treated badly, because we want to provide healing where we’ve caused harm and division.
Being remorsefully alarmed at how we’ve hurt others requires both humility and self-confidence. Instead of self-protectively worrying about shame, we allow ourselves to feel the pain of what we have done to others, knowing that God cares about us even though we are sinners. This gives us the freedom to turn guilt into the joy of transformation and increased holiness. If we really do care about others, we feel good about being this humble.
True remorse does not come easy. We have to rely on God’s help. Whenever we get in touch with the pain we’ve caused others, we should ask Jesus to multiply our concern for them. He will honor this prayer with great blessings. This is the “sign of Jonah” that Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel reading. When we die in humility in the belly of our whale-like circumstances or on our cross of regret, God the Father resurrects us into a holier, healthier, more joy-filled life.
© 2016 by Terry A. Modica