In the movie, The Dark Knight Rises, we meet Gotham’s premier cat burglar, Cat Woman, played by Ann Hathaway. I can’t tell you how many Halloweens I dressed up as Cat Woman. My mom sewed two triangular ears onto a black knit cap. I wore a dark turtleneck and black thermal underwear (we didn’t wear yoga pants back then). We stuffed one of my dad’s black socks for a tail and fastened it around my waist, so it trailed along my rear-end. I painted whiskers on my face and then I was ready to prowl the main streets and back roads of Billerica, Massachusetts. I’ve always liked Cat Woman, but I never knew if she was a villain or a hero. It seemed to me she was both.
In the movie, Cat Woman will do just about anything to get one thing in particular. It’s not money she’s after; nor is it a precious jewel; it’s not a relationship or fame or a litter of little kitties. All she wants…is a fresh start; a clean slate. She’s got a hefty case file against her dating back to the day she was born. She wants a new beginning and she’ll do anything to get it. She’s told she can get a fresh start through a secret, rumored software program called Clean Slate.
I still like Cat Woman. She understands how difficult it is to get a fresh start. She knows the value of a new beginning.
When Mark’s gospel opens, we meet the Jewish people at a time in history when they need a fresh start. They had a case file against them a mile high and because of it, they hadn’t heard from a prophet of God in 400 years. Until John. There he is, in the river Jordan, telling people that a fresh start begins with repentance.
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"--"a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'
And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."
Repentance means, ‘a change of mind.’ What are they changing their minds about? Folks are changing their minds about their sin. They’re seeing it in a new way, a way they haven’t seen before.
Maybe for some it’s as if they’re seeing a particular sin for the first time. Yeah, what they do at the coffee shop is gossip and it’s hurtful to others. Or maybe for some, they’re recognizing that the way they talk to their spouse, their coworkers, their children—it’s sin.
But it’s more than particular sins. It’s the fact that sin resides deep in our souls. The potential is there—to ruin ourselves, our friends, our families, our world. An evil, so dark and destructive rests in each one of us, so grotesque that we must keep it at bay…but it is there.
When we repent, we have a new understanding of our own sinfulness. We see our sin in its ugly particulars and we see our sinfulness. We see our sin as an offense against a holy God. In the book, Finding Calcutta, Mary Poplin tells the following story about her extended visit with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, where she often had to care for a five-month-old infant with severe health issues:
"When feeding time was over, the babies were falling asleep in their bassinettes, and I was getting ready to go …. I glanced at the infants on my way out [the door] and noticed that undigested formula was dripping out of this child's bassinette. He had thrown up what must have been the entire eight-ounce bottle. Looking around for someone to tell as I left [the room], I saw no one in the infant area, and the few adults in the room had their hands full with other children.
So I decided, with no little struggle, to stay and clean up the mess. I put on my apron again, lifted the baby out of his bassinette and helped him on my shoulder as I began to gather the dirty sheets together and use them to wipe up the mess. As I was cleaning, I heard a muffled sound from the infant in my arms. Tears were pouring out of his eyes, and the only sound he could make was a convulsive sob.
As I looked at him, I saw in myself what Jeremiah called "the desperate wickedness of the heart." I realized I had approached this task with a spirit of resistance and impatience. I had thought very little, if at all, about this child and his needs, other than to be clean. As I threw the sheets into the laundry pile, I began to bathe his little misshapen body and change his clothes. Afterward I held him to me tightly as I … looked at him, rocked him, and prayed …. In a short time, he was asleep ….
I must tell you that the moment I saw him weeping and realized the wretchedness in my heart, I knew it was sin. There was no doubt in my mind that this is what Christ meant when he said, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts." I asked Christ to forgive and change me. In those moments as I rocked the baby, I could feel Christ's work inside my spirit just as surely as if he were sitting next to me."
Mary Poplin, Finding Calcutta (InterVarsity Press, 2008), pp. 82-83
This story breaks my heart because it involves a disabled child, lying in his own mess, who simply needed to be held and loved. But this story breaks my heart even more, because I have been that woman—that woman who is too tired to help anymore, too impatient to deal with the same problems over and over again, too agitated about staying a few more minutes; too busy…This story breaks my heart, because I see the brokenness of my own heart. I can always justify why I was short with someone or why I blew up or blew someone off…I’m tired; overworked. But if I’m honest with myself, I know it’s sin…deep within me. I need to change my mind about sin. I need to see it for what it is.
And that’s why I love Psalm 130:3-4: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness…”
Rest in the knowledge today that with God, there is forgiveness. There is a clean slate for anyone who wants it.