November 29 – Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week after Pentecost (11th of Luke) Luke 20:1-8
Rights vs. Repentance: Luke 20:1-8, especially vss. 5-6: “And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we
say, “From heaven,” He will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From men,” all the people
will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.’” The Evangelist Mark concisely records two
imperatives given to us by the Lord Jesus: “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). This call arouses the
chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, who ask: “By what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he
who gave You this authority?” (Lk 20:2).
These leaders know very well that they are the authorities, for they belong to the ruling council (Nm 11:16-
17). Now, they see a Galilean peasant speaking on God’s behalf in the Temple (Lk 19:47), apparently on His own
The Lord does not attempt to convince these leaders of His divine anointing as Messiah, which would
provide grounds for an authority beyond question. Rather, He returns to His basic message of repentance and
obedience to the Gospel by posing a question to His interrogators: “The baptism of John – was it from heaven or
from men?” (vs. 20:4).
Saint John called all men to repent, then to confirm their repentance by the cleansing of baptism. The Lord
Jesus’ question – was John’s authority from God, from himself, or from some other human authority? – can only
be answered within the heart, for the response will reveal either our openness or our resistance to repentance.
Christ seeks to open the hearts of His interrogators (and all of us) to the repentance preached by Saint John
and Himself. God’s appointed leaders have the opportunity to acknowledge the Baptist as a prophet and heed his
call to repent, but they balk at even this elementary step toward salvation. Because they will not repent, neither
can they hear Christ’s gospel nor believe in Him.
Instead, the authorities create a false polarization between rights and repentance. Woe to us if we become
so preoccupied with rights and self-esteem that we are not open to God’s call to “repent and believe in the gospel”
(Mk 1:15)! The call to repent is the call to life, for it comes from Life Himself. There is no conflict in calling
others to repent so long as the appeal originates with God, who speaks through John and dwells incarnate in the
The reasoning of the authorities exposes their uncertainty concerning John (Lk 20:5-6) and their
unwillingness to believe that he spoke for God. If they cannot acknowledge John’s call as valid, how can they
Each of us, however, must answer the Lord’s question. Saint Peter of Damascus exhorts us to respond
affirmatively, for “it is always possible to make a new start by means of repentance. ‘You fell,’ it is written, ‘now
arise’ (see Prv 24:16). And if you fall again, then rise again, without despairing at all of your salvation, no matter
what happens” (Philokalia vol. 3, p. 170). As long as we breathe air in this life we have the chance to renew our
baptism into Christ through repentance, for our tears become the new cleansing waters.
Repentance remains an urgent concern for us, for without repentance no one can be saved. Do not delay,
insists Saint Peter. “Repentance is the first healing medicine. The heart has to repent and come to its natural
condition. If a life of sin has led it to an unnatural state, a life of repentance will bring it back to its right state,
will give it life” (Vlachos, Orthodox Psychotherapy, p. 177).
The Orthodox Christian life is aptly described as one of repentance. “To ascend spiritually, it is necessary
first of all to free oneself from the weight of sin,” says Saint John of San Francisco. “It is taken from us through
repentance, provided that we banish from ourselves all enmity and forgive” (Perekrestov, Man of God, p. 129).
Pardon and forgive our transgressions, O merciful Savior, and grant that we may complete the remaining
time of our life in peace and repentance. – Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom