1st. Sunday of Lent Year B 2021
The waters of the Flood had destroyed earthly life, the waters of Baptism would offer supernatural LIFE. In between those two events -- after the Flood and in preparation for Jesus’ Baptism -- God made three covenants with His chosen people; three covenants whereby, from this Chosen People, would ultimately arise the Promised One -- the Messiah of God -- Jesus Our Lord, the Saviour of mankind: God Himself in human flesh. All of that is contained in the opening words of Jesus:
This is the time of fulfilment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Our Gospel reading recounted how Jesus had been driven by the Spirit of God into the desert where He was tempted by Satan for forty days. We are also told how Satan, in the course of that encounter, tried and failed, to tempt Jesus by offering Him the satisfactions of worldly peace, pleasure, and pride.
That is the background to those words of Jesus which Mother Church still proclaims in His name:
Repent, and believe in the Gospel;
words she continually recalls and proclaims because the need for such repentance is abiding.
It is commonly thought that repentance is needed in order to convert to Catholicism or Christianity, and after that, only when sin has been committed. But such a view is by far too superficial. Repentance is, indeed, necessary in order to believe and embrace the Gospel promise of eternal life in Jesus; but such repentance – turning from the sins of this world in order to embrace the Gospel of eternal life in Jesus – only becomes an enduring reality through the power of God’s most Holy Spirit, God’s Gift to us in Jesus, actually guiding and ruling our mind and heart here on earth so that we might live a truly Christian, authentic, Jesus-witnessing, life. Repentance and the Gift of God’s most Holy Spirit can be seen as two sides of one coin: death and Life, so to speak. The whole purpose and meaning of our repentance is that thereby we might die to sin and be enabled to turn to Jesus and live in-and-with Him an abiding, ever-developing, relationship of obedience and love, a Gospel-witness for God’s glory and the fulfilment of our human being.
(Jesus) went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. He said to him, "Follow Me" so, he left all, rose up, and followed Him. (Luke 5:27-28)
And all the Apostles, likewise, left everything to follow Jesus.
On the other hand, the rich young man /who wanted to be perfect, could not follow when Jesus said (Matthew 19:21-22):
"If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
In his case, it is abundantly clear that, though he was living a good life -- indeed, he thought he wanted to be perfect -- love of riches would not allow him to grow in repentance, that is, would not allow him to turn to Jesus wholeheartedly, motivated not so much by revulsion with regard to sin, not so much by a merely theoretical idea of ‘religious perfection’, but by an ever-deepening and developing, indeed, an ever more absorbing and demanding love for the Person of Jesus Himself and an obedient manifestation to the beauty of His truth and teaching.
Jesus Himself made this absolutely clear when He told His disciples (Matthew 10:37-38}:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
Very often, in order to promote or to popularize the Faith, it is presented as being a commitment that will make our lives more enjoyable. That however can be wrongly understood, because Christian faith is not intended to top up our present experience of life so much as to change it altogether, to consign it to the rubbish bin, as it were, so that we can start anew, afresh, on a life of truly heavenly aspirations, as St. Paul tells us:
I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
St. Paul is there speaking in a very emphatic manner in order to get over a most important aspect of Christian discipleship. He did not, literally, count the advantages and blessings that had been his in Judaism -- the blessings of his careful upbringing -- as so much rubbish in themselves; but, out of love for Christ, he regarded those things as if they were rubbish, in so far as he turned away from them in order to give himself ever more completely to Jesus; and in so doing Paul was continually repenting of things past.
I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.
He remained always proud and grateful for having been brought up a Jew and he would have given his life to help his former Jewish brethren; but when he glimpsed something of the glory of Christ, he turned away from his past, thereby repenting of it, and he never looked back again because he was always, henceforth, striving to give himself ever more completely and perfectly to Christ.
And so, People of God, “repent and believe the Gospel” are words for all time, words to be realized throughout our lives as we seek to grow in the love of the Lord. We repent of our pride when we are suddenly enabled to see the truth about ourselves -- our weakness, our ignorance, our folly, our pretence -- and are allowed to recognize, appreciate, something of the wonder of Jesus, and to long and pray for, a humble pride-crumbling love of Him. We likewise repent of our slothfulness and little faith when, for example, when we come to a calm and sincere appreciation of those other words of Jesus in our Gospel passage:
The time of fulfilment, the kingdom of God is at hand,
and we seriously acknowledge that it is at hand for us if we will only prevail upon ourselves to make the necessary effort to take up the offer and work for it.
Repentance is an ever-growing sensitivity and responsiveness to the call of God’s grace, a call that would lead us higher and further, thereby requiring us be always prepared and ready to turn away from what is below and behind and look to what is upward and to come. But repentance is only seen in all its grandeur when it fills us with gratitude: when we find that, as it enables us to see more clearly our past sins and failings, it also allows us to appreciate more fully what a debt of gratitude we owe to God for so many past blessings so long ignored during our years of repented ignorance.
Yes, repentance is indeed a great gift of God: for the gratitude it generates is a virtue both beautiful in itself and delightful in the joy with which it fills our heart and life; while the goodness it reveals is an awesome and a humbling presage of the fulfilment to which it aspires.