January 5, 2014
In today’s Gospel, we hear the opening words of Saint Mark’s Gospel. Unlike Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, Saint Mark does not begin with the accounts of Christ’s birth, but rather starts in the desert, where Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner was calling people to repentance. Saint John clearly identified himself with the Old Testament prophets, who called on people to repent of their sins, turn around, and begin a new life, and the Church regards him as the greatest of the prophets. Indeed, he provides a crucial link between the Old Testament and the New.
The call to repentance lies at the heart of our Christian faith, yet its meaning can sometimes be difficult for us to grasp. Many people understand repentance as simply being miserable for one’s sins – as if God would want us to be miserable! Others see it as making a huge effort to somehow win favour with God. While repentance certainly involves an element of sorrow for our sins, and while we do need to make an effort to change, the repentance of which the Gospel speaks is deeper than this. True repentance involves an encounter with God which turns our lives around and which is ultimately deeply joyful.
We are all different and so this encounter with God can take many forms, but Saint John was clear that repentance meant a turning to Jesus Christ, and he was preparing his disciples to recognise Christ when He appeared. We do not change our lives by telling ourselves how bad we are, or by trying to be better on our own steam. Rather, we begin to change by encountering the One “who is mightier than I,” realising that we are loved by Him, learning to see ourselves as He sees us, and beginning to follow Him in our daily lives, nourished always by His Body which is the Church.