Isaiah 9:1-4 • Psalm 27:1, 4-9 • 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 • Matthew 4:12-23
Timing is everything, but especially so when a ruthless dictator with a proclivity towards beheading has just arrested the person who baptized you. Today's gospel story begins with Jesus finding out that John the Baptizer is in prison. When he hears this, he moves away from the immediate vicinity of Herod. Where he moves to is another interesting tale in timing, for the folks in Capernaum had suffered greatly in multiple generations of foreign rule, and their families had survived to see the day when Jesus would live among them. But back to the main point here. Before this, the stories in Matthew were about Jesus being born, tempted, and baptized. Now, he's starting to preach himself. He has fled from Herod not for safety for its own sake, but for safety (at least, temporary safety) to do what matters with his life.
Today's psalm is a lovely example of the experience of being in a safe place – on a rock, as the psalmist puts it – where danger can be seen in advance. It's calming to be on that high rock. Jesus takes this to the next level. He seeks safety not to stay calm, but to have a chance to begin preaching the message that the kingdom of heaven is arriving. He has something he is trying to say and do with his life – and his sense of timing tells him that he had better get going with it.
For those of us wondering what we are to do – or do next – with our own lives, what Jesus has to say may be useful. It's a pretty brief message here in verse 17: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is arriving. Now, repent is often said in a kind of "feel bad about yourself, feel guilty" tone. However, repent means something more along the lines of changing your mind. It's similar to the word metamorphosis, like the caterpillar changing into the butterfly. There's one difference, though. With repent, the change happens not with your body, but with how you think about things and how you redirect yourself accordingly. It's about reason, and sometimes, emotional reason. If you are trapped in a sense of self-importance, asking yourself to use emotional reason to reflect on what you have done and not done may bring some big surprises. It may be that the person you have let down the most is yourself, as you have continually sought the approval or positive regard of others in caring and doing for them. If you are trapped in a sense of your own incompetence, asking yourself to use emotional reason to reflect on what you are capable of may bring some big surprises. It may be that you also have let yourself down – and others, too – as you have continually denied the gifts you have been given. There are a thousand and one opportunities to re-think how one has been understanding life and an equal number of chances to go a different way. Repent is an equal opportunity imperative command for each and every day.
The good news here is that the kingdom of heaven is arriving; the choice is whether to participate in it. Seeing the arrival of a whole other dimension of life in this world, in this time and place, is the invitation. And now we're back to timing and focus on what one is seeking to do with the rest of one's life. For seeing what one is to do with this day allows one to live already secure in the kingdom that's on its way.
Morning: What do I want to do with this day? What might I need to stop doing, to get on with it?
Evening: Where could I begin to repent? What aspects of my life should I re-think? How could I see things differently?