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3-Point Mass prep: Greek and Hebrew on “repent”

John Baptist

Sr. Amata, CSFN

Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik - published on 12/04/22

The two meanings from these two languages are complementary, but different.

The Gospel for this Sunday isMt 3:1-12

1.  A word of introduction

When we say the word “conversion,” it has a defined meaning in a given language. The greatest richness of its significance is found in the Bible because the word contains both Hebrew and Greek meanings. 

2.  Key words

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

St. John the Baptist preached to the Jews. Most likely, when talking about repentance, he used the word “shuv” known from the Hebrew Bible. It has a very practical meaning and is very figurative. The Hebrew word “shuv” means to turn back from the wrong path, which leads astray or into dangerous territory where one can lose one’s life. In addition, it means to turn back toward God, who is the source of happiness. 

In the Gospel, the speech of St. John the Baptist is recorded in Greek. In turn, in this language, “metanoeite” is used to describe the word “repent.” This word literally means “change your thinking.”   

Importantly, the heart in the Bible does not refer to emotions so much, but precisely to the way of thinking. It is in the heart where a person makes choices and decisions. Therefore, a change of thinking means a change in the heart of a person.   

We can see, then, that the two meanings of the word “repent” are not opposite, but complementary. 

3.  Today

When saying repent, the Gospel speaks at the same time of two principles: turn back and turn to God, and change your thinking (heart).

From which path should I turn back to God? On which matter should I change my thinking? 

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