At the heart of God’s saving plan is the reconciliation of humanity’s fall from grace. Jesus in his earthly ministry begins with the proclamation that the Kingdom of God/Heaven is close at hand. The heart of this message is not predominately about a place we go when we die but a relationship that is restored – a relationship restored in and through Jesus Christ.
This renewed relationship begins in faith through baptism and is nurtured by the sacraments and has it ultimate fulfilment, after death, judgment, our reparations for our sin in purgatory, to the full embrace of the Father in the glory of heaven.
Jesus’ announcement that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ is near at hand is revolutionary as it proclaims the coming direct rule and reign of Almighty God. In lay man’s terms “Watch out, the Day is coming!” Jesus tells us that repentance is the best means of preparing for that hour.
It is important at this point to highlight that repentance carries a meaning that is much more than a feeling. Although we should feel a sense of remorse or sorrow for our sins, repentance is a call to action, to a decision, to change one’s direction and turn around. This is a critical point because although our feelings are not unimportant they can also be misleading.
Repentance requires of us a change of life; to conform to that which God has revealed about ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ True repentance doesn’t allow us to hide behind our feelings as if our feelings about something or a situation can somehow trump Jesus’ teaching about what is right or wrong.
The phrase, “if you feel at peace with God about it”, to justify one’s actions, just will not do, as it attempts to locate ultimate truth with the individual and their feelings. If that were the case you’d have a billion different competing truths, nothing could be objective and nothing eternal. While recognising that an individual conscience is inviolate, that same conscience needs to be informed. This process of informing the conscience we know to be true because it’s the very thing we are doing when we teach our children, from a young age, to share their toys, to take their turn and to say sorry when they’ve hurt someone else.
That process of informing the conscience doesn’t end at childhood, the teachings of Christ in the Gospels and through his Church are food for the soul in our process of continual conversion. ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed but the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ (Rom 12:2).
Neither then can we use Jesus’ words in one part of the Gospel to somehow contradict Jesus’ words in another – to do so is foolish at best, wilful at worst or both and is diabolical.
If our first response to the coming kingdom is repentance the second is related and that is to follow. We are called to follow Jesus where he leads and to follow his teachings rather than my own instinctive desires and feelings. The gospel call to conversion doesn’t promise us that if we follow Jesus then everything will go just fine as if he is there waiting to wave a magic wand and all our problems will disappear. Jesus called the first disciples to follow and it led them to see the glory of God but also persecution and martyrdom.
All true paths of discipleship inevitable lead to Calvary and the knowledge that we cannot be disciples of Christ unless we are willing to take up our cross and follow him. However, Calvary leads to the lifting up to glory, a dying to this world that we might be embraced by the glory of our Almighty Father and the knowledge of the joy of heaven – his rule and reign in our lives.