Repent and believe, the Baptist cries, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!
Repent! Not a very good marketing slogan for the New Evangelization. Who wants to repent? I'm quite happy the way I've arranged things in my life, already, thank you. Maybe take care of a war or a famine or something else more in your job description, God, and just leave me alone to live my little life the way I choose.
Repent and believe....the Kingdom of God is at hand!
But repentance means I have to obey, and obedience is not exactly one of my favorite things. Yeah, it's true, I knelt down and put my hands between those of the Bishop and promised obedience and respect, but that was a long time ago, And I was still a kid, and it was a part of the rite. And plus, I'm not a bad person...I do a lot more than some of those other people...there are a lot worse than me...why don't you go ask them to repent?
Repent and believe!
The Baptist looks right at me and at you...yes you!…..and says it: repent and believe, right now! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!
Repent from what? Believe in what? From where do I turn and what do I embrace in this metanoia?
I turn from selfishness and sin, the belief that I am God. I turn from the conviction that I am God, that I am in charge, a notion I stubbornly cling to like a two year stamping his feet and holding his breath. I turn from the belief that its all about me and that the only purpose of life is to make me feel good.
And I am called to embrace obedient love, the notion that I am the child, God is God and that is enough for me. I turn to a belief in the Shema Israel, which heralds and caps every act of Jewish worship, it says it all: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one."
Such conversion to humility, to the constant conviction that I am little and God is big, that I am child and he is Father, results in a radical obedience, not to my self- actualization, but to the plan God has for me and for my life.
It is a turn from the first Adam to the second, from the first Eve to the most blessed among women. For the sin of our first parents was not just the fruit stolen from the tree, but the disordered conviction that they could be God if the just ate the right kind of fruit.
We are made for obedient love. It is our dignity. It is our destiny. It is our purpose for being.
You see, it’s not just a question of doing God's will so I can go to heaven: obey the rules and win the prize. Its a matter of being so much more in love with God that I will do his will not because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but because I love God and I want nothing so much as to be his obedient son.
That's what it means to make straight his paths, to prepare a highway for our God. The highway is me. To repent and believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand is to radically hand myself to God, even unto death, death even on a cross.
It's like what Saint Augustine once preached, a favorite saying of this preacher, too: God does not want your gifts. God wants you. All of you. Your mind, your heart, your entire being.
For he made you for obedient love. The kind of love that’s less interested in being God, than in being his beloved child. The kind of obedient love which is the reason we are and what we were made to be.