Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt 4:17).
Have you, like me, ever heard those words and cringed? Oh, no! What have I done now? I follow that response with a long litany of sins, big and small – sins for deeds that I committed and sins for deeds that I omitted. I then mentally start beating myself up. My stomach starts churning, and my shoulders sag with the weight of my burden. And then I think to myself, Jesus came to preach the Good News – to remove people’s burdens. Why did he start his preaching this way? This was supposed to make people happy? To make people flock to him? Why did they? Yikes! And at the time, no one even knew of his great love and his willingness to sacrifice his life for their sakes. They weren’t aware of the profound mystery of the incarnation and who Jesus was—God himself come down to live among us. Yet they still rejoiced.
All of that is why I feel so awful when I hear the words, “Repent.” I know who Jesus is, and yet I still fall into sin so easily. So, when I hear the admonition to repent, it doesn’t feel like good news.
I was sharing about this with my friend Jeanne one day, and she smiled and told me that it didn’t feel like good news to me because I was looking at it the wrong way. (Oh great, one more thing I was doing wrong). She explained that the reason the people rejoiced when Jesus told them to repent, was that he always followed it with, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
I still didn’t get it, and told her so.
What is the kingdom of heaven? she asked.
I think you could describe it a lot of ways, I replied, but the bottom line is that it’s life with Jesus.
So, who were the people looking at when they heard the announcement of the Good News? she continued. I was getting a little annoyed, but I went along with her “twenty questions” approach. Since it was Jesus, who was talking to them, I suppose they looked at Jesus, I replied – the light beginning to dawn.
And where do you look when Jesus announces the Good News to repent?
I look inside myself, I said quietly.
Jeanne gave me a big hug. How can you possibly see the light or know the joy of repenting when you’re looking inside at all your sinfulness? The only way to know his joy and forgiveness is to look upon his face.
By the time my friend left, I was at peace. I spent some time repenting, but I made sure to look at the Lord as I did, and I was filled with joy. Since that day, whenever I find myself sliding into that place of gloom, I remember to lift up my eyes to the Lord. It truly is Good News that Jesus has come, that he has forgiven me, that he wants me to live in his kingdom of joy and love. In fact, he wants every one of us to live in the joy of his kingdom.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing. . . (Is 9:1).