Third Sunday, Year (B)
(Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1st. Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)
Repent and believe the Good News
That is what many believe to be the first -- and perhaps original -- Gospel’s summary of Jesus’ teaching, and the quintessential core, marrow, and backbone of Christian preaching:
Repent and believe the Good News of Jesus.
Now ‘repent’ is not the same as ‘regret’ in the Christian proclamation. It does not mean look back fixedly, ever reviewing your past life and lamenting, wishing it had been otherwise; but rather:
look up, look forward, to God, Whose goodness and truth is now -- in and through Jesus -- ready to begin the ultimate transformation of mankind and the whole world;
look at God in Jesus, and change your old attitudes of selfishness and pride, acknowledging with Peter, ‘Lord, you have the words of eternal life’;
look around, for God, and with mind, heart, soul and strength, indeed, with your whole being, seek to promote His glory and serve His purposes in all life’s circumstances and apparently chance happenings; for:
The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.
In Jesus’ Good News, and Mother Church’s proclamation, God is Love and He is Life; to listen to Him is to hear Truth and to obey Him is to practice Wisdom; to look at Him is to see Beauty, to trust in Him is to have Strength; while to experience His hidden presence is to find peace and taste beatitude. ‘Repent’ means: turn to God and prepare yourselves to receive these gifts from Him; stop seeking to promote your own interests of prestige, power, or pleasure; stop turning to and trusting in men who, like yourself, are fragile creatures of flesh and blood, by nature inconstant. As Our Lord Himself puts it:
Do not labour for food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.
Surely then, ‘repent’ is a joyous word, something like ‘renew yourself’, ‘be refreshed, restored’, indeed and in all truth, ‘be revitalized’. Such Christian repentance makes our religious practice authentically human, for a human being, no matter how well placed in life, always aspires to yet more of what is (or at least seems to be) good. Christian repentance means that a new horizon has dawned, a new destiny is opening up; and how essential that is to a truly human life! What is the tragedy of unemployment today? It is not (in our society at least) so much that those without work are starving, barely able to exist, but rather that they have no future to look forward to; for a human being can endure, can triumph over, almost any odds so long as he or she has an ideal, a future, to aim at, to hope for, aspire towards. Christian repentance opens us up to that new hope, that new future, which promises not merely earthly well-being, but divine, eternal blessedness; it continually urges us to leave behind the past and to look forward, aiming ever higher; for being a response to the proximity of the Kingdom of God, it is always coupled with divine power.
It is not enough, however, to just repent on hearing Jesus’ call; for true repentance, it is also necessary to ‘believe’ the Good News which Jesus reveals about the goodness and mercy of God, about the lovableness of His truth and beauty:
Repent and believe the Good News.
Obviously, hearing alone can never lead us to repentance if we do not believe what we have heard, and so, we cannot repent without believing; nor, on the other hand, can we believe without repenting … the devils know, but without believing what they know, they cannot repent:
Go into all the world and preach the Gospel …. He who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
To believe in God and the Gospel’s Good News is to see truly something of God’s holiness and majesty, His goodness and mercy, His wisdom and beauty, and it is impossible to thus realize, and in some slight measure appreciate, such infinite Beauty without at the same time – though painfully and fearfully recognizing one’s own disfigurement, alienation and ignorance -- being nevertheless drawn to it. And there, precisely, is the root of repentance: for despite the conviction of one’s own nothingness, lovelessness, and culpability, before God’s all-holy Goodness and Beauty, the fact of being so irresistibly drawn by yearning admiration and longing desire towards that Goodness and Beauty urges and gently compels us to a new calm and deep-rooted, fresh-water so to speak, re-appraisal of our life, past, present, and future, together with whole-hearted trust in, and trembling response to, Jesus’ Gospel call.
People of God, we should never allow ourselves to be satisfied with past progress or present well-being. Christian repentance and Catholic belief should grow in us daily so that, when the call comes for us to embrace death, we might be found forgetful of self and filled with humble joy, hope, and trust in the Lord Who first called us by His Gospel message of Good News, has long guided and sustained us by His Spirit of Truth and Love, and is now preparing for us a room in His Father’s house.