This week DOB and I watched Gunless, a very funny western parody about a gunslinger, the Montana Kid, who stumbles into a remote Canadian hamlet and tries to get in a gunfight with an enormous but peaceful blacksmith in a town where the only pistol has been broken for years.
At one point he gets asked why . . . why can't he just let it go? Why, after a brief misunderstanding, does he need to make the blacksmith the twelfth man he's killed?
He answers: "Cuz if I let it go now, then I shoulda let it go when them 3 guys in
Missouri called me a cheat. Now you tell me. Did they die for nothin'?
And if I let them guys in Missouri go, then I shoulda let it go when
that man was whoopin' that dog. Now does that sound right to you?
Beatin' on a helpless dog? If I was able to let that man go for beatin'
on that mutt, then sure as hell no reason I couldn'ta just walked away
when I was called out in Wyoming, or Santa Fe, and twice in Arizona. If I
was so damned smart to walk away when I was called out, then I should
have the wherewithal not to use my gun in self-defense, twice. And if I
shoulda been able to avoid that, then there's no arguable reason why I
couldn'ta just gone to the sheriff, insteada killin' the man that
whipped my pa."
The Montana Kid has inadvertently stumbled into an Advent sermon. He's begun to realize that he needs to change, that he wants a different life. But he can't have change without repentance: without admitting that his former choices were wrong. Sometimes, that's a lot of wrong to face.
The need for repentance is not an arbitrary call. John the Baptist doesn't call for repentance because we need to grovel a lot before Jesus will deign to come; he calls for repentance because it's the logical precondition for change. Because until we can face up to what has been wrong, we won't be able to accept things being made right. The change has to come from outside us . . . but we have to be made ready for the change.