What did Jesus mean by those terms?
Earl’s bunk was immediately south of mine. It was close enough to the front desk, that he could engage the guards in conversation without having to raise his voice.
Earl was light-skinned, about 6’4” tall, and about 300 lbs. He said he had twelve children. He said he killed a man the first time at age 15. He had some kind of speech impediment, such that, on any occasion, the first two or three seconds of his speech was unintelligible to me.
His children gave him a car.
One night, some time after lights out, I had a serious coughing spell, and afterwards heard him talking to me. He insisted I have COVID. I answered, in part, “We’ve been through this before; it’s called C-O-P-D.” After a few more choice words, he concluded, “They need to test your ass.”
I got up to go use the bathroom. When I came back, he was into his routine, almost-nightly thing of making disparaging remarks about the guards, and about the shelter in general. The machinery of my mind does not operate in accordance with such expressions, so in this or any other instance it’s almost impossible for me to recall such speech. But he says in effect that the guards don’t have real jobs. He complains that the Mayor set aside an additional $91 million for homeless services, but we’re still getting cold cereal for breakfast. Remember that the dorm is completely dark at this time. He goes on and on. I mind my own business.
The next day, I pondered what to say if this should ever come up again. This is what came:
I hope you find happiness in life.
This would be changing the subject, but under the circumstances I think that’s in order. It would redirect his attention back to himself (“Keep the focus on you.”) and toward scenarios he might like, as opposed to things — me, my cough, features of shelter life — he doesn’t like and as to which he has no power. Compare Twin’s question to Mike, “What do you want?”
It’s clear he’s spent most of his life seeking something other than happiness.
If he were to change his orientation, that might be tantamount to what Jesus meant by “repentance” and “conversion.”
Until this writing, I did not know that those two words are merely alternative English translations of the same, one, word in New Testament Greek, metanoia/μετάνοια. The word literally means, “change one’s mind.” It has traditionally been taken to mean “change one’s ways.”
Or, change one’s direction in life.
It’s not merely a matter of adopting a different set of beliefs or concepts.
I am tempted to believe that when Jesus told people to “repent,” whether those people were the Lumpen he’s normally associated with, or people of the middle class, or rich; for any and all people; he meant a change in orientation such as I wished for Earl:
Have done with seeking anything other than happiness in life.
After I began praying for him, Earl never again made disparaging remarks about anyone.