“The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News”. These are the very first words of Jesus, recorded in Saint Mark’s gospel. Jesus begins his public ministry calling for repentance and faith as an individual’s response to the closeness of the kingdom. But do these words still move our hearts today? Or are we tired of hearing them? We hear these words at the beginning of Lent; we hear them today, we have heard them many, many times in our lives. Maybe we think that we do not need to repent, because we are believers. And in a way that’s true. But I can see one big problem with that idea.
If we look carefully at the original, Greek text of the gospel – something that I know people in Glenlivet do frequently – we find the word metanoia. This word is generally translated as repentance, sometimes as conversion. Whichever translation we use, it remains far from the original meaning. An accurate translation needs more than one word and it’s this: “changing our way of thinking”. Other texts in the Bible add something to our understanding of the word metanoia; for example the words spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah. Listen to them: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways. The heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts” (Is 55,8-9).
The biblical term metanoia means a process, which lasts throughout our lives. For some people the first, very important step might be a great conversion or turning away from a really evil life. But it’s different for everyone. I can tell you, what the same is for everyone. That the way you think should constantly change as you live alongside God’s grace. I can give you an illustration. A famous sculptor of the Renaissance said that a sculpture is hidden inside a lump of stone. This sculptor’s task is to remove unnecessary pieces of stone to uncover the sculpture. This vision of the artist offers a perfect description of metanoia. It is the chipping off of bad parts from our lives and the smoothing out of the rest in order to achieve a perfect shape. In this way we may overwhelm evil by good, selfishness by generosity, bad temper by patience, hatred by love. The kingdom of God – you see then – really is close at hand.