So they set off to preach repentance - Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) 2018

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > So they set off to preach repentance - Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) 2018

To listen to an audio recording of His Grace's homily, click here.

I am interested in the way that St Mark chose to describe the mission of the Twelve as the Lord sent them forth on mission. He said that “they set off to preach repentance”.

The account we read this morning of the sending of the Twelve was really a crucial moment in the public ministry of the Lord. He knew that he only had a few years in which to carry out his itinerant preaching ministry across the towns and villages of the Holy Land.

He had a clear plan for the future, and it involved entrusting his mission to his chosen Twelve. He would do this formally at his Ascension, but to prepare them for what he was going to commission them to do, he gave them – if you like – some ‘on the job’ training. I would say we see in this morning’s Gospel how the Lord gives them quite clear instructions as to how they were to go forth on mission. We are told he then sent them out in pairs to preach and heal. They were to do what they had seen him doing. Indeed, it was a very bold move.

We notice that St Mark today in the Gospel describes what their mission was to be by saying that they “set off to preach repentance”. It’s an interesting phrase – “to preach repentance”. Today, we might probably prefer it if we said that they set off to announce the ‘Good News’, for instance. Because the word ‘repentance’ doesn’t sit easily with us, does it? But why would St Mark highlight this particular aspect of the mission that he entrusted to the Twelve?

Here we can recall the description provided by the Evangelists of the very first - the initial - proclamation that the Lord made as he began his public ministry: “The Kingdom of God,” he said, “is close at hand; repent and believe.” Repentance, thus, in the Lord’s mind, was seen as key for a person to be enabled to be drawn into the life God’s Kingdom.

As we read the Gospels, we notice the many occasions when the Lord is focused upon the forgiveness of sins. You might recall the story of the paralysed man who was brought along to Jesus for healing. It’s very clear, being paralysed, what his particular need was. But then the Lord says to the surprise of all his onlookers, “Your sins are forgiven.” After his Resurrection when he appeared to his disciples for the first time we are told by St John that the first thing that he did after greeting them was to breathe on them and invoke the Holy Spirit, and then to say, “Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven.” He gave them the power to forgive sins. This was like the first thing that the Lord wanted them to have as a result of his Resurrection.

Earlier in the Gospel when John the Baptist sees Jesus amidst the crowds gathering for baptism in the Jordan, he declares, “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus’ mission was very much about bringing forgiveness for sin into people’s lives. His death on Calvary was no less than the great act of redemption whereby humanity was freed from the effects of sin.

We can be aware too of the fact that every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, the ‘Our Father’, we pray: “Forgive us our sins.”

St Mark describes the message of the Twelve as a message of repentance. To express it in another way, it’s a message to turn once again back to God. Because sin is simply moving away from God. The basic message of Christianity will always be the call to redirect one’s life towards God. To be Christian, what one simply does is chooses God’s way and not our own way.

In a few weeks’ time we will be holding a Mission Evening here in the Cathedral Parish. I would like to share a little bit of background behind the holding of this event and why I have been travelling to all the parishes in Tasmania this year offering this Mission Evening.

When I received the call from Pope Francis to be the Archbishop of Hobart – five years ago this month – a certain description of my role came to my mind. What I sensed, in being called to go to Tasmania, was that I was being sent as a ‘missionary bishop’. These were the words that came to me as a I reflected upon the task that had been entrusted to me. What I understood this to be was that I should make evangelising central to my work as bishop in Tasmania. I had a background in being involved in different ways of finding means by which the New Evangelisation, particularly promoted by St John Paul II, could be implemented in an Australian context. So in one way, this call, this sense of being missionary was not completely strange to me and indeed echoed a lot of what I had been doing.

In the latter part of last year, this call to be missionary bishop came to me afresh and prompted me to take on this initiative of conducting a mission night in each parish of the Archdiocese. At this stage I am about half way through – I think I have done about 14 missions so far. I am convinced that this is something I should be doing anyway as a bishop, particularly the idea of preaching the basic Gospel message: the kerygma. The other thing I love and have been very moved in doing has been to pray over people as well.

These mission evenings are aimed at promoting the essential Christian message which is a call to repentance as the means of entering more deeply into Christian discipleship. Because at the heart of embracing a life in Christ is to repent: “Repent and believe,” the Lord says.

Now this idea of repentance shouldn’t frighten us or concern us. Because in the end there is something wonderful and freeing in abandoning ourselves into the Lord’s hands knowing how much we need him and need his forgiveness. We all try to control and govern our own lives our own way. We all like to have our personal freedom and we all prize our self-determination. However don’t we know as well, we just don’t manage always to get things right.

In fact, if we look at our lives then we can honestly say that often trying to do things our way just hasn’t worked. In the end – it is true isn’t it –that we cannot manage by ourselves. As much as we want to run our own race, we know we need God. We need him to help us get out of our mess and our problems. We know that we are often out of our depth. We need God to sort out our lives.

Very simply, we cannot do without God. So, we need to turn again and again to God, particularly when we realise that we’ve been walking without him as being central to our lives - perhaps peripheral to our lives, on the margins of our lives, but not central to our lives. This is something we need to do again and again as we as we realise our need to reorient ourselves towards God. This simply is what repentance is. Indeed, it is so liberating. It is so calming and reassuring. It is expressing our desire to trust in God and not just in ourselves.

The mission night will provide us with an opportunity to bring God back into the very centre of our life. It will be a very simple and beautiful night - a prayerful night - providing us with an opportunity of opening ourselves afresh to God. From it will come peace and joy.

So St Mark tells us that the Twelve set out to preach repentance because this was the message of Christ, and it remains the essential message of the Church.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 15 July 2018