When repentance is more God’s work than ours: Luke’s strange stress on divine mercy

This post is in the series Rite Reading. The second of three posts on Luke.

The comedian Emo Philips used to have a great one-liner:

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.

St Luke has more about repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ ministry than the other gospels, and in a way his take on it is as strange as Emo’s. Luke’s Jesus is very much the friend of sinners.

Detail from an icon of St Luke in Great Lavra monastery on Mt Athos; via Wikipedia

It should be said straight away that Judaism was very much in favour of repentance, and was always happy to see sinners engage in it. It’s just that some of those who clashed with Jesus didn’t recognise people’s responses to Jesus as repentance. Repentance was laid out clearly in the law. It involved making sacrifices and reparation, and amendment of life. Partying with Jesus didn’t look much like that kind of serious acknowledgement of sin.

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