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THE MEANING OF TRUE REPENTANCE AND HOW TO LEARN FROM BAD EXAMPLE

Father Francis's picture
Second Week of Lent

Is. 1:10, 18-20 & Mt. 23:1-12

Repentance and conversion have to involve more than a mere verbal admission of guilt. They must show in actions as Isaiah points out in today's first reading, in a new way of living, in a change of attitude. We must take wrongdoing out of God’s sight and do good to the poor, orphans and widows. If we do then we can rejoice over the words, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are like crimson, they shall be like wool.”

We all know the value of a good example. Most of us learn to do things quicker and better if we see someone else do it first. This is what Edgar Guest had in mind when he wrote, 'The lectures you deliver may be very wise and true, but I’d rather learn my lessons by observing what you do."

But do we appreciate the potential benefits of bad example? This is what our Gospel reading is all about today. Jesus was talking to His disciples, “The scribes and Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say, but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practise what they preach.” Then He proceeded to point out some specific things in the lives of these people that the disciples should avoid in their own lives. Jesus is simply saying that we should learn from the mistakes of other people. Surely that makes good sense?

I remember watching a TV programme in which two murderers, who were once hardened criminals, were allowed to relate to young budding offenders the foolishness of their ways, and the cruelty that had been inflicted upon them by fellow prisoners. The attitude of some of these young offenders was, 'You can’t teach me a thing. I'll do exactly what I want.' But once they had heard first-hand what had happened to these criminals in prison, they were really frightened and told their probation officers they had learnt a lesson, and that they were going to make sure they would reform their ways. Wisely they had allowed the bad example of those reformed criminals to teach them something important.

We can all learn from the mistakes of others. In most cases the examples will not be as extreme and dramatic. The men whom Jesus pointed out were, in fact, law abiding and deeply religious people, whose number one sin was pride. Jesus is telling His disciples to be careful to avoid the same failing, not so that His followers might gloat over them and feel superior.

Lord Jesus You know that bad example is all around us in our everyday lives. Help us to understand that You want us to recognise it, learn from it and make sure we avoid repeating it.

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