Love and Change
by Rev. Robert Wagner
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that
Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Napthtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in the land overshadowed by death light has arisen. From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Not surprisingly, this is the first public message that Jesus preaches in the Gospel of Matthew. In these words we recognize the incredible reality that surrounds the presence of Jesus in our midst, the immensity of His love for us and His desire for our salvation that flows from that love.
That being said, the first part of Christ’s proclamation — “Repent” — may be a stumbling block for us. Too often, when we are told to change our ways, we respond with negativity, even in cases when we know the change is well-advised. A demand for conversion or repentance requires us to admit that there are faults and sins that keep us from being the person God created us to be. Such self-examination is difficult, so in our pride, our defenses go up when someone suggests we are less than perfect, even when that someone is Jesus. And so we bristle at the divine command to repent, and in the confusion and self-love that follow we may even begin to doubt the sincerity of God’s love for us. Jesus loves us unconditionally, so why would He command us to change? Shouldn’t His great love for us allow Him to accept us as we are?
Of course, we know the answer to this. Jesus does love us, even in our sinfulness. But He does not want us to remain in our sin, so in His love for us, He tells us to change. This is not a unique situation: a call for change driven by love (not opposed to it). We see it when mothers and fathers shape the virtue of their children by telling them what they are doing right and wrong. Or when husbands and wives try to lovingly correct each other in order to strengthen their marriage when they find that their spouse’s actions are causing harm. In severe cases, we know that loved ones confront friends and family who are struggling with a dangerous way of life so that he or she may live life more freely and fruitfully.
Love does not exclude someone from correcting another’s fault. In fact, if that fault keeps a loved one from happiness, love requires that the damaging fault be addressed.
Therefore, at the very start of His ministry, Jesus tells His followers to repent and gives a reason for it: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This announcement takes on its richest, fullest possible meaning when proclaimed by Jesus because it is His kingdom that has arrived, the kingdom of God. He is the King who comes to conquer sin and death, to save each and every one of us, and to bring peace throughout His kingdom. And thus at the beginning of His ministry, when Jesus reveals that His glorious kingdom “is at hand,” we first encounter this eternal promise of triumph, peace and joy.
Our Gospel this Sunday translates the command “Repent” from the Greek word “metanoein,” which could also be translated as, “Change your mind” When we realize the startling reality that confronts us — the kingdom of God is among us — the perspective cannot help but change our hearts and minds. When we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that in many ways we do not live as members of the kingdom of heaven but instead are focused on the passing things of this world. In His love, Jesus tells us to look at the glorious gift He is offering us, and confronted with its beauty identify what it is that keeps us from fully participating in the triumph of the heavenly King. Jesus wants us to share the fullness of the kingdom He brings. He longs for us to change that we may have life to the fullest.
With Christ’s coming, the people in darkness have seen a great light. Let us pray for the humility to heed Our Savior’s call to change without taking offense, to see our actions in the light of His truth and love, and cast off the sinfulness that impedes our full participation in His everlasting kingdom, today and for all eternity.
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