Monday After Epiphany

In today’s gospel, Jesus begins to do something that can come across as strange to the modern reader: He preaches repentance and the Kingdom. John the Baptist is arrested, and Matthew tells us that “from that time on, Jesus began to preach and say ‘repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’” This element of Jesus’ preaching is not often stressed. Companionship, mercy, forgiveness, love—these are the themes more likely to be stressed in any discussion of what Jesus taught. How do we make sense of Jesus’ preaching of the coming of the Kingdom?

The first key is to get hold of what Jesus might be talking about when He says that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” As Benedict points out in Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Himself has long been equated with the Kingdom. To a certain extent, it is possible to reformulate His preaching as “Repent, for I am at hand.” Even this can leave us feeling cold, however. We don’t normally like to hear someone say “you’d better shape up before I arrive.”

But this presumes that the “shaping up” is something that we can do on our own. True repentance, however, is not a “do-it-yourself” project. Less still is it a self-help program. Jesus’ statement is as much an invitation as it is a warning: “you cannot truly repent without me; do so since I am at hand.” Yesterday, we had the image of the Epiphany, and how some parts of the crèche rejoiced at the coming of Jesus, while others were fairly neutral about the event. This is the case not only in the world, but in our own hearts. Today, Jesus invites us to correct this, and accept His help and His Kingship so that no part of our heart is without His light.

January 6th, 2014