“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Thus Jesus according to St Mark and St Matthew. Here is the start of His earthly Ministry, and already we are told that the Kingdom is at hand. When we pray the prayer He taught us, we ask “Thy kingdom come,” and for “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Often we think of this in an eschatalogical sense, but there is more to it than waiting until the end times when the Kingdom of God will come; it is closer to us than that. But there is one action we need to take first – repentance.
Here is the enlightenment which praying the mystery offers to us. It is through repentance that we are able to accept forgiveness and to forgive others; it is through repentance that we are healed. We hurt others, often without knowing it, although we are swift enough to point out to them when they have hurt us; how often are they as surprised by our reaction as we are by theirs? We need to be more mindful of the reality of others and not to see them solely in the light of their relationship with us. Being hard on ourselves for behaving poorly is not repentance, though it can be the beginning of it.
We know that sin separates us from God, and we can fall into the way of thinking that God is angry with us for this, so we feel guilty. Yet guilt itself can be a sin. It can lead us the way of Judas, who killed himself because of his sin; he could not imagine that God could forgive what he had done. How often are we like that? We can turn to God and confess our sins and know that this is the road to Him. If we surrender to Him and turn away from our sins, then we are indeed near the Kingdom of God.
We see ourselves differently in the Light of Christ, and the first fruit of repentance is change. We don’t just turn away from sin, we turn to Jesus, and this effects how we are with others and how we are in this world. We turn away from those things which bring pain to others, and so often to ourselves. We will slip on this path, but as with all paths, we slip less if we mind our footsteps and observe what we are doing.
Christ reveals to us what that Kingdom is like through His every act. He invites sinners to eat and drink with Him; He tells us there is more joy in Heaven over the lost sheep that is found than there is over the ninety-nine others; He tells us of the Father’s joy when the Prodigal Son repents and returns; He dies for all, not just His followers. Those who were outcasts in His society, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the Gentiles, all these are received by Him through repentance. It is the most wonderful message to know this Kingdom of God is so close to us. But will we repent?
There is the heart of the Christian mystery. God loves us and wants us to love Him. He does not want to command obedience, neither does He want automatons. We have choice. We can grow in Him or away from Him; either way He is there and loves us. But He leaves it to us to repent and learn that the Kingdom is, indeed at hand, and we don’t have to wait for the next world.