Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe the good news.
For almost two millennia we have had problems with three vital words in this passage: time, kingdom and repent.
- TIME. Greek speaking writers of the Gospels had two words to choose from. They are chronos and kairos. Chronos is time you can measure in seconds, minutes, hours, with a chronometer. Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century Dominican, wrote, “Time is what keeps the light from reaching us. There is no greater obstacle to God than time”. He was talking about chronos. Kairos is more subtle. We might call it significant time, appropriate time, critical time. Jesus seems to have been much more aware of kairos and for him the kairos was always now. That’s why he could say to someone who wanted to attend a funeral before following him, let the dead bury their dead. Kairos, the present moment, is the narrow gate through which we must pass before we can discern the kingdom. There is never a future in which I might get round to following Jesus. The ‘time’ for doing that is always now, because it is fulfilled – filled full with good measure, pressed down, running over with the abundant riches of God’s grace. There are times (chronos) when I am overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions which keep me from seeing the light and following the path Jesus points to. Discovering that path has everything to do with repentance as we shall see in a moment.
- KINGDOM. What did Jesus mean? Where was it? When would it come? The disciples didn’t understand? “Of course they didn’t!” writes Sebastian Moore in The Contagion of Jesus, “For they didn’t know what it was like to have the inner God-track open, clear of all the junk with which we make it impassable”. This applies to lots of us lots of the time. ‘Kingdom’ suggests to us a physical place ruled over by a monarch who is out there somewhere. More helpful for me is Eckhart Tolle’s phrase ‘realm of Being’ – a state of affairs in which everything we take for granted about being human is turned upside down. The parables of Jesus are rich with startling reversals that puzzled and upset his audiences and have continued to do so ever since. Incidentally most Biblical scholars agree that with the parables we get closer to words Jesus actually spoke than anywhere else.
- REPENT. Now here’s a word to trip over! After a tricky journey from Aramaic (spoken by Jesus), through Greek (in which the Gospels were written) then by way of Latin into English. The trouble lies in that last translation from Latin to English. The Latin word poenare has overtones of punishment, so when we repent we say sorry. Right? Well, will you try a little experiment? Would you like to pause for a moment and just look at the word ‘repent’….. Next, take any one of the letters in the word. Let’s take ‘e’ for example. Notice the shape of the letter…….notice the spaces which help to make the shape ‘e’. Don’t think about what you see, just notice. ………..OK? Done that? You have just ‘repented’!! Repentance has almost nothing to do with the past; nothing to do with sin. The Greek word is metanoia which means a mind-shift like the one you just used to look at the shape of an individual letter. Cynthia Bourgeault describes repentance as, “a radical shift in consciousness: away from alienation and polarisation……into the unified field of divine abundance that can be perceived only through the heart”. (The Wisdom Jesus, page 62) The truth is, it’s not what you see, it’s the way that you see it. R.S. Thomas expresses it beautifully in ‘The Bright Field’.