The repentance of Jesus

With two parents, a handful of siblings, and born into a fundamentally flawed religious system? Jesus absolutely had to repent.

A previous discussion about repentance has demonstrated how that word involves looking back and reflecting on life up to that point. There is no doubt that Jesus would have done this. Repentance involves sorting through our feelings, understanding the impact various people have had on us.
"Children are like wet cement, everything that falls upon them forms an impression," Dr Haim Ginott, Child Psychologist
Dr Haim Ginott's observation applied as much to Jesus as anybody else. Take just one scriptural example, drawn from Luke 2:41-48. When Jesus was twelve years of age, the family took a trip to Jerusalem to celebrate an annual festival. On the way home, his parents became aware that they had not seen Jesus in quite some time. They search for him among their relatives, and then they begin to panic, quite understandably. They return to Jerusalem and they undergo an anxious search for their son until eventually they find him in the temple questioning the religious leaders. Notwithstanding the truthfulness of this story, let's just take it on face value: Here is a twelve-year-old boy faced with the panicked expressions of his mother and father. How did Jesus end up in that predicament in the first place? Did he steal away? Did he not care? Was he so unmoved by his parents' likely distress? Did the company leave without him, giving him a feeling of abandonment - something which terrifies every child, no matter who. Abandonment, rejection - for a first-born, the whispers of it begin as soon as a second child is realised. It gathers momentum as a family grows and the children naturally get less attention. Depending on the culture, a child only learns to bottle it up, it doesn't make them any happier with the situation. The dynamic between parent and child remains unchanged across every generation and every nationality. Whatever the case, the residue of these feelings is something the man Jesus would have to sort through at some point in his life.

Perhaps such abandonment issues created a rift between himself and his siblings which still resonated years later. It meant they weren't so ready to hear his words - something they would have to see themselves through if they were to make any spiritual progress.
"Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"
That self-righteous, arrogant 12-year-old would have to go. Jesus would have to get to the root of that one. Perhaps it was an unrecorded robust retort from his parents - "We can't let you talk to us that way, Jesus. You're going to have to find a more pleasant way of telling us you have a higher calling." - that helped him grow "in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man."

Allow me to suggest a possible route that this account took. This was a key event in Jesus' formative years, a pivotal moment. On a quiet and private occasion, Jesus is talking with his friends about repentance. He explains how God is a God of the past as well as the present, how the prophets of old often referred to past acts of the nation of Israel and drew inferences regarding the present, and sometimes the future. The same principle applies to our own lives, too. He goes on to relate an experience of his own. He was a small boy. His family took their annual trip to Jerusalem for one of the festivals. When the time came to go home, for various reasons, the company left without him. He had never felt so scared in his life, so alone. A country boy abandoned in the big bustling metropolis. He recalls some of the feelings that rushed in upon him. It could be he went to the temple because that had been the agreed-upon location to meet if anyone got separated from the family. Maybe the reception was somewhat frosty. Perhaps he began to ask questions, as twelve-year-olds are wont to do. Quite likely, he was younger than twelve.

I imagine this being an experience that Peter related to Paul when they spoke together about repentance. Paul recounts it to Luke, with some embellishment - "Got any stories about him when he was a youngster?" - and Luke does the rest. Not for him a namby-pamby Messiah lost and alone in Jerusalem!

Event - Interpretation - Revelation
Then there is Jesus' religious upbringing. His reflections on his own relationship with God, and that of his nation as a whole, would form the basis of a repentant attitude. Naturally his mind turned to the nation of Israel. What had happened to this once great kingdom he was part of? It was as if God had abandoned these people. The religious leaders could be tyrannical, the common people downtrodden, and labelled "sinners."

As Jesus reflected on the nation's history, as he looked back at different events and began to interpret those events, he found that all his expectations and preconceptions started to fall away, until finally God's revelation rushed upon him: God hadn't gone anywhere. He had abandoned no one. Rather, Israel had abandoned God. It had never been a great kingdom. In fact, it had always been a nation on the run from God. A people running from God because of their fear, shame, and anger. And it was a microcosm of the whole of mankind. Not just at a national level, but on an individual basis. Jesus would carry on the work started by Isaiah. He would concentrate on the nation of Israel - perhaps it would grow from there. "Repent! (in other words, "turn back to God") Your sins have been forgiven!"

Additionally, if Barbara Kay Lundblad's observations about Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman are accurate, then this attitude towards non-Israelites is another trait that Jesus would have wanted to get to the bottom of.

Jesus was so sure of his understanding, made certain by the outpouring of holy spirit, that he felt able to claim that these were words that had come from God himself.

When Jesus went out and encouraged men and women everywhere to "Repent!" he was not telling them to do something he had not done himself. When he preached the good news that, "Your sins are forgiven," he was talking about something that he himself had experienced. When he spoke about his oneness with his heavenly Father, he was expressing his feelings about a relationship that any one of his listeners could develop. It wasn't unique.

Jesus' repentance gives us the profound and wonderful realisation that when he relates the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus is talking about every single person's relationship with God, including his own!