Hamartia is made up of two parts: ha-(an aspirated alpha), which is a negation (like un-or dis-), and -martia, from the Greek root meros, which means “form, origin, or being.” The fundamental meaning is “negation of origin or being” or “formlessness.” Yes, it is about “missing the mark,” but the mark is not perfect moral behavior. The “mark” is the Truth of your being.
The biblical meanings of repentance are much richer and much more important. To begin with, the Greek word for “repentance” that we find in the Gospels in the New Testament, is metanoia. Translating its Greek roots, “to repent” means “to go beyond the mind that you have,” the mind that you have gotten from culture.
The contemporary Christian writer Frederick Buechner has a wonderful way of putting this: Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you, because it is through what happens to you that God speaks. It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher, but it’s there, powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.
If we take Jesus seriously, then we are not dealing with outsiders and insiders; we are dealing with those who are seeing and those who are not seeing, trusting and not trusting.
Admittedly, we humans are control freaks, wanting to control everyone and everything around us so that the things we fear won’t happen. We inherently know that control is a myth, that one rogue cell or another person’s choices can instantly change the direction of our lives, but we still fight for it and even demand it. So if we can’t have control, we want a God who does.
The roots of the word “repent” are very interesting and suggest something quite different—not intensification of guilt and contrition. When we look at the Greek roots of the word “repentance,” the verb is metanoata. The noun is metanoia. Meta means “beyond.” The noun from which the second part of the word “repent” is derived is nous in Greek, and it means “mind.” Putting that together, “to repent” means “to go beyond the mind that you have.”
Moreover, Jesus perceived that the orientation of the heart—its most deeply seated commitments—had historical-political consequences. He saw that the most fundamental commitments of his culture were leading to a collision course with Rome. Finally, the basic quality of a heart centered in God—compassion—had political implications. Compassion was to be the core value of the people of God as a historical community. Thus Jesus’s teaching as sage was not divorced from the conflict situation for which we have argued, but was integral to