There is one overarching theme to all of Jesus’ ministry. Everything He did and said can be summed up in the words, “The Kingdom of Heaven.”
It was to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to us that Jesus came to earth. He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Most of His parables began with the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like...”. The miracles He performed were proof that the Kingdom of Heaven was already among us conquering the kingdom of this earth which has burdened us with sin, suffering and death. In His preaching, Jesus taught us that in God’s Kingdom the poor would be blessed, those who mourn will be consoled and those who humble themselves will be glorified. It is a Kingdom which turns everything we are accustomed to on its head. It is a true revolution in which the first shall be last and God will be all in all.
When Jesus announces that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand in today’s gospel, He tells us that we must “repent”. What does He mean by that word? To repent means to welcome the coming of God’s Kingdom into our world and to change our attitudes and our lifestyle accordingly. To repent means to submit ourselves to God’s word and to live according to its demands. This repentance is not a one time event as our “born-again” brothers and sisters sometimes insist. Rather it is an ongoing openness of our minds and hearts to the transformative power of God.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has written a powerful and beautiful work entitled, The Joy of the Gospel. Though it has received some notoriety in the press because of it’s criticism of rampant consumerism and the growing inequality among the rich and the poor, it also is a firm but gentle critique of how we Christians too often stand in the way of God’s work in the world. Our Holy Father is echoing the call of Jesus for all of us to repent so that the Kingdom of Heaven may be a reality in our world.
All of us should spend time reading over The Joy of the Gospel for ourselves so that we can be enriched by its wisdom and inspired by its call to bring Christ to others. In light of today’s readings, however, let us look at two ways the Holy Father is calling us to repent - to change our attitudes, behaviours and lifestyles so that the Kingdom of Heaven may be made visible in our world.
First of all, every follower of Jesus is called to evangelize. The Holy Father writes:
“All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization.... The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization...(EG 120)
To evangelize simply means “to share the gospel with others”. Pope Francis is challenging each of us no matter what our state in life is and no matter how much we think we may know or not know to go out of our comfort zones and speak to our family members, friends, co-workers, schoolmates and even strangers about the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ.
In the past, we may have seen this work as belonging only to priests and religious. However, we need to repent of this attitude and take hold of this work ourselves. Long gone are the days when we could expect people to come to church on their own. Even if Catholics left in their teenage years, we would expect them to come back to be married or to baptize their children. We all know from personal experience that this is not the case anymore. If these people are not to be lost, then we have to seek them out ourselves, bringing the joy of God’s love to them. We have to repent of the comfortable spiritual lives we have created for ourselves and take the risk of reaching out to others with the power of the gospel message.
The second way the Holy Father is calling us to repent is by putting aside all rivalries and conflicts we may have with one another. Saint Paul echoes this in today’s second reading: “[Let] there be no divisions among you, but...be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” We know that divisions among Christians are an excuse for many people not to believe in Jesus. If we cannot love and forgive one another, then how can we preach love and forgiveness to others? Sadly, in our parish, even despite our best efforts to get along, we often have one group grumbling about another group. We too often talk behind one other’s back and sometimes even undermine one another’s work, forgetting that we are all on the same team.
If we are going to be a people who reflect the love of Christ, then we must repent of the resentments and grudges which keep us from working together. This is the advice our Holy Father gives us:
“We all have our likes and dislikes, and perhaps at this very moment we are angry with someone. At least let us say to the Lord: ‘Lord, I am angry with this person.... I pray to you for him and for her’. To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelization. Let us do it today! Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love!” (EG 101).
The Kingdom of Heaven has come among us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing we can do to stop it. But we do have a decision to make. Will we accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Will we submit ourselves to His rule? Or will we cling to our false sense of ownership over our own lives and stubbornly hold on to the illusion that we are in control? By heeding our Holy Father’s call to bring the gospel message into the lives of those we meet and by forgiving and loving one another, we can show that His Kingdom of love is already at work among us.