And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. Jonah 3:5
According to the bible dictionary: “Sackcloth is a coarse, black cloth made from goat’s hair that was worn together with the burnt ashes of wood as a sign of mourning for personal and national disaster, as a sign of repentance and at times of prayer for deliverance.” In biblical times, people took the business of repentance pretty seriously. Repentance means a sincere turning away, in both the mind and heart, from self to God. It is my experience that repentance is not something that we do just one time and then we’re good; it is something that we do over and over again, day by day, and sometimes minute by minute, because it is so incredibly easy to be lured back down the path of self-reliance. I’m really glad that we no longer don the not-so-gay apparel of sackcloth and ashes as a sign of our repentance, but does this mean that we no longer take repentance seriously? If I look at my footprints in the sand would I be looking at a path that zig-zags all over the place? I believe I would; but the good news lies in the corresponding zag to my zig. As long as I am zagging, or repenting, my focus is on God who is guiding me back on the path. In the gospel of Mark Jesus said: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” He did not specify how many times it would be necessary to repent, nor did he say you only get one shot at it. Had he said that the good news would have stagnated long ago. Repentance is a result of God leading us, opening our eyes and changing our hearts. Repentance is part of the divine gift of transformation that comes to us through our faith. My repentance might be a crazy path of zigs and zags, but my faith is not. Sometimes I feel like my faith is all I have; it is such a part of me that I couldn’t shake it if I wanted to. As I grow in my faith, my repentance is assured because there can be no faith in Christ without repentance and no repentance without faith. The two are inseparable and wearing sackcloth and ashes would not add a single drop of value to my faith. Today I remember that God is leading me and that repentance is not self-directed.