Mark 1:14-20

Repent and believe in the Gospel.” These are the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel and are meant to be a summary of the entire Gospel. But what do these words mean to us? Jesus began his public ministry in a tone of great urgency; and his announcement that God’s Kingdom was at hand had two aspects to it.

There was the proclamation of God’s grace; the “good news” that the time of salvation has dawned. But at the same time Jesus proclaimed God’s Reign as an imminent judgement. The assumption is that men and women are far from God and in practice often live without reference to God.

The time to put things right is growing short – as. St Paul emphasises in the second reading. So Jesus starts his ministry by issuing an urgent appeal for repentance. But why was such an appeal necessary?

The answer is that although we were originally made in the image of God, and baptized to clear us of original sin; and although our real vocation is to live in harmony with God; for many of us, our predicament is that we’re easily separated, or alienated, from him.

Our vision of things, our values and motives and our behaviour is easily distorted by sin, and we look for happiness and fulfilment in the wrong places.

If we allow ourselves to follow the logic of sin we naturally, almost automatically, put ourselves first, use other people, scramble after money, power, status, selfish pleasure. Human society in general runs according to the law of self-interest, not the law of God’s love.

But in the mind and will of God there’s nothing natural about this selfish logic. Life in the Kingdom of God, to use Jesus’ phrase, involves a kind of reversal of the worldly, self-seeking principles we take for granted.

God’s Kingdom doesn’t fit in neatly with the way things usually are in the world, because the way things usually are is determined by sin. And that was why Jesus not only declared the coming of God’s Kingdom to be Good News, but also demanded that his listeners repent.

This means that we acknowledge our flawed nature, our tendency to allow self-interest to dominate, and our refusal to attend to the demands of love: which is the essence of sin. Secondly it means an actual turning away from sin and a new willingness to immerse ourselves in God’s holiness and love, which then in turn re-order our vision and values, our motives and behaviour.

These definitions are borne out by the passage in the first reading from the prophet Jonah; an appropriate partner for today’s gospel. At first Jonah was reluctant to go to preach to the hated Ninevites.

He runs in the opposite direction to where God wants him to go, but God persists and brings him back with the help of the big fish. Jonah’s attempt to warn the people of Nineveh about the danger of being wiped out was very successful and, as the author puts it, “God saw how they turned from their evil ways.” Jesus’ efforts, on the other hand, didn’t meet with the same success, and later in his ministry he often lamented the people’s hardness of heart, their indifference and the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders.

Looking at that contrast between the reaction of the people of Nineveh and the reaction of the people Jesus preached to, we can ask ourselves: how well do we acknowledge our own need for repentance?

In English, the word “repent” is often misunderstood. It seems to imply that we have already done something wrong, regret it, and now commit ourselves to live in a new way. Repentance, understood in this way, means sorrow for sins.

Biblically, this is not quite what is meant. In the gospels, the particular word used for repentance is metanoia; the eye of the heart. Literally this means to do a 180* about face, to turn around, to face in an entirely new direction.

When one looks at the miracles of Jesus, it is interesting to see that so many of them are connected to opening up or otherwise healing someone’s eyes, ears, or tongue. These miracles, of course, always have more than a physical significance.

Eyes are opened in order to see more deeply and spiritually; ears are opened in order to hear things more compassionately; and tongues are loosened in order to praise God more freely and to speak words of reconciliation and love to each other.

To put it metaphorically, what Jesus is doing in these miracles is attaching the eyes, ears, and tongue to the soul, so that what a person is now seeing, hearing, and speaking is not bitterness, hurt, and pettiness but rather compassion, gratitude, and praise.

To repent is to let the image and likeness of God reign within us. Repentance asks that we make a complete turnaround in our lives toward God.

ref:  Fr Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I

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