January 21 Repent

These thoughts are about what I sense today’s Scripture readings are saying to me at this point in my life, about my responding, or not responding to God calling me. In the Gospel Story Jesus says, as he calls his followers, “this is the time of fulfillment, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel”. In the Psalm we pray, “your ways, O Lord, make known to me, teach me your paths”. And in the Gospel Verse we hear, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. The Readings show God has little regard for my comfort or convenience, entering my life often when, and in whom, I least expect or even want. Jesus’ disciples left what they were doing and followed him. Might this be what Jesus expects me to do, to leave my comfort and go where he calls and do what he calls me to do?

“Repent” gets a bad rap. It is a positive experience, but not an easy one. It is focused not on sin, but on changing where I look for my happiness, changing my mind, letting the Spirit guide me to new ways of thinking, which can be a frightening experience. Unless I am open to new ways I will keep acting as I always have, and nothing will change in me. I won’t grow. Since I am constantly changing simply by living my life, I have a constant need to repent, to think beyond myself and my comfort, to let go of my need to feel in control, to move where I’m called.

“Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths.” If I choose to pray this, I have to be pretty serious. It might happen that what Jesus shows me is something I don’t want, or something I’ve tried before but it didn’t work out. More of the Psalm: Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior . . . He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way”.  So obviously I have to pray for the gift of being humble and open to limitless possibility, and not getting in the way. Being humble is simply accepting the reality that I am weak and don’t have all the answers, and just go where this takes me, trusting that I’m not alone even where I feel very alone.

In some situations I have to practice discernment, to pray and ask what God is saying to me in a particular situation. In some way, which honestly I don’t understand but firmly believe, God is involved and present in everything. I need to look for God and be ready to be surprised, and probably inconvenienced and challenged. Mychal’s Prayer is very important and practical, even a way of living: “Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, let me say what you want me to say and do what you want me to do, and keep me out of your way”. Again I have to be careful about praying this since it probably will happen in ways and with people I just don’t want.

In the Gospel Story the men left their nets and families, dropped everything, and followed Jesus. Could he be expecting me to do the same thing in my life from time to time? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time. In retrospect when I did my best to respond in this way things went well, good happened, it sure wasn’t easy, and I learned a lot. But when I put myself and my comfort first, things did not go well, and, of course, I blamed others. The trouble is these things are clear only in looking back, rarely while they are happening.

Jesus says, “this is the time of fulfillment, the kingdom of God is at hand”, telling me to get my act together and start believing in and living by the Gospel. The kingdom is what happens when I choose to begin living according to the Gospel, aware of my responsibilities to others, in my own life living the Sermon on the Mount as best I can, always open to the Spirit bursting in on my comfort and convenience. Easy and nice to talk about, not at all to do.

While my relationship with God is eminently personal, it is never private. As the Gospel Story reflects, it always involves the other people in my life, the ones I know and the ones I don’t know, the people I enjoy and those I don’t. At times there have been people in my life I just wish weren’t there. But if I believe in God as a verb, which I do, they have the right to be in my life and the need to be in my life. I need them as they need me, part of the mystery of God being God. And it is a mystery, one that I, along with everybody, am firmly and actively a part of. Having said this, though, there are some people I just wish were not in my life. This is my problem, not theirs. In terms of the Gospel Story, I’m still holding on to my nets and not letting go, keeping hold of my self-comfort focus. Might repent mean for me to stop focusing on what I can keep and move to what can I give?

As the Gospel Story hints at, following Jesus, spending time with him, is a journey. If I’m serious about it, I’m always moving, being led to different situations and relationships. Some I just accept, others I work to make happen. I have a lot of power here. I can keep saying “yes” and go where it takes me, or I can say “no”, dig in my heels and stay where I am, which stops everything and might give me a sense of control. Going on a journey with Jesus is an adventure where the only control I might have is my ongoing “yes”. It is challenging, often frightening and sometimes even dark.  Almost always what is going on is misunderstood by others, so in this sense it is lonely too. There is little sense of safety or security, often just trusting, wandering, wondering, certainly very little knowing of any kind. Often this journey takes me places I just don’t understand and can find no reason or explanation for. Maybe it’s like Jesus carrying his cross, and getting some help from Simon. Maybe it’s not. Still, wouldn’t change a thing.

Right now, here, today, “is the time of fulfillment, the kingdom of God is at hand”. Am I being called to “repent and believe in the Gospel”? Do I leave my nets and go where I would rather not, or do I abandon my nets, my need for comfort and control, and follow Jesus? Not as easy or clear as it sounds: theoretically everything seems clear;  practically not so much. Glib easy answers don’t fit, more wandering and wondering. Deep stuff. Just sayin .  .  .