Repent and Believe - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Repent and Believe - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

We are familiar with the Gospels. We have had them proclaimed to us at our Sunday Masses. This year we are commencing our readings from St Mark’s Gospel. We have read them personally and reflected upon the life of Christ and upon his teaching. The parables of the Lord stand out particularly as they present His teaching in engaging and understandable terms.

A good question to ask ourselves is, ‘In the end what is the heart of the message of Christ?’ It is a useful question to ask as it helps clarify in our own minds how we understand being Christian.

So, what is the essential message that Jesus preached? Probably we are drawn to His teaching about love – love of God and love of neighbour. We know that Jesus said that it summarised the whole teaching of the law.

This certainly expresses what the Lord expects of His disciples. At the Last Supper He said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” St John in particular often returns to this theme in his Gospel and in his Letters.

However, to answer the question, I would like to refer to the Gospel reading today. St Mark presents the opening message of Jesus as He commences His public ministry. His first message is not about love, but about the fact that the Kingdom of God is close at hand and that we should repent and believe.

This is a very important statement by the Lord, if something often overlooked.

The Lord announces that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. It is interesting to note that the subject of the Kingdom of God is a constant theme in the parables of Jesus. The parables often begin with the statement, “the Kingdom of God is like… a sower going out to sow, …a mustard seed, …leaven in dough, ….a pearl of great price, …a king holding great feast, and so on.

There is no doubt that the notion of the Kingdom of God was central to the mind and message that Jesus wanted to convey.

So briefly, what is this Kingdom that He speaks about? The simplest way to explain the idea is to understand that at the time of Christ everyone lived under some king or other. The Holy Land was under Roman control whose king was Caesar, and there was the local puppet king, Herod. Kings were absolute rulers and obedience to their rule was expected and enforced. Kings in turn provided protection for their people. People paid allegiance to their king and, depending on the virtue of the king, enjoyed a degree of stability and protection. Of course, some kings were tyrants. Others could be more benign.

Jesus invites His listeners not to only see themselves under the authority of an earthly ruler, but to willingly place themselves under a heavenly authority. In other words, to live under the authority and protection of God.

Jesus called people to live not just within a worldly kingdom, but to live in a spiritual kingdom. This latter kingdom was a kingdom of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, as St Paul would later say.

Jesus explains in very simple terms how we can enter into this spiritual kingdom. He uses two words: repent and believe. Let us briefly examine each of them.

The first word, repent, is a word that sticks in the throat of modern people. In an age that has lost a sense of sin, most do not see any need for repentance. It can be useful to understand that the Greek word metanoia implies a redirection of one’s life. Essentially, repentance means turning towards God and turning away from a life focused on this world and on ourselves. It is a decision to choose God’s way and not our own.

Many of us would consider that we have already chosen this way. And indeed we have. But the call to repentance is always relevant. The Lord calls us to deeper conversion to His way. We know that we have wayward hearts. We know that we are self-willed. We know that we do not surrender totally to God.

The call to repentance remains a constant in our lives. The more we heed the call, the more we move our lives under the protection and guidance of God. The more we will find true peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

The second word, believe, is also important. Now once again we can say that we believe. We believe in God. We are Catholics after all. We are at Mass today. However, faith is a dynamic and not just a static reality. The man who said to the Lord, “I believe but help my unbelief,” expressed an important truth. We believe but we have a lack of belief as well.

For example, how much do we really trust God? Do we rely upon ourselves and only seek God’s help when things go wrong? Do I seek the will of God for my life, or am I content to do what I want with my life?

To believe in God is actually a radical thing. It is to entrust ourselves and our futures completely into God’s hands. Jesus expressed His own understanding of this when He said, “I have not come to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me.”

How often do we place our lives and our decisions before the Lord and ask what is God’s will in this matter? We can so limit our lives but only doing what we want. We keep God at arm’s length.

So, what is the essence of the message of Christ? It is to realise that God’s Kingdom is close at hand and that the Lord invites us to embrace the reality of this Kingdom and enter it more fully. We, each of us, need to repent and to believe. This is an ongoing call for each of us. As Christians we can never say that we have arrived. We are being constantly called forth to the more.

It is as simple and as challenging as that.

Archbishop Julian Porteous