What does it mean to repent?

“Jesus began to reproach the towns
where most of his mighty deeds had been done,
since they had not repented.” Matthew 11:20

But what does the word repent actually mean? “In Greek, the word repent … is metanoia, and it literally means to have a new understanding because understanding precedes action. If I know the bridge it out, I’m not going down that road, unless I’m really a headstrong stupid idiot, and I’ve done things like that; I’ve been headstrong and stupid. There is just a kind of arrogance in us that insists we are right and will not brook any kind of dispute, opposition,” explained Fr. Richard Simon, host of Father Simon SaysTM on Relevant Radio®.

“To repent is to have that understanding, that mind which was in Christ Jesus … and of course, the scripture says elsewhere, ‘Do not be conformed by this present age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.’ We all want a miracle, but God does his best work by teaching us the truth. Because if we know the truth, it will set us free.”

He explained that repentance is not easy because of our stubbornness. “The truth is what precedes action. If I know something to be true, I’m going to act in a certain way. I’m going down the road and I see a sign that says, ‘Bridge out’ and I say, ‘Nonsense, I’m going to be late for my appointment which is on the other side of the river. I was just here this morning; that bridge is fine.’ And I zoom down the road at 60 miles an hour and I am going to end up in the river. And as I’ve already pointed out, there are some people who are so thickheaded they would do that kind of thing, I being among them.”

“Now, if I know the bridge is out, then I’m going to find another way around. If I’m headed down this road and some guy’s waving a red flag and I realize, oooh the bridge is out. He saves me from death; he’s my savior. But then he gets in the car and shows me another way around so I can get to the goal that I wanted to be. In that moment, he becomes my redeemer,” said Fr. Simon.

Repentance is tied to understanding God’s word. “The best prayer that a Christian can pray is not, ‘Lord, give me what I want.’ It’s, ‘Lord, teach me your ways!’ Because his way is better than my way.”

The towns where Jesus says he did most of his works but did not repent have been lost to history. Their locations were unknown and they are uninhabited. “This is not poetry,” said Fr. Simon, “this is historical fact. If we do not return to the Lord, we as a culture and a nation will cease to exist.”

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.