Monday, December 4, 2017


St Mark the Evangelist (1424)
The readings for this Sunday are unusually well integrated. The Gospel passage depicting John the Baptist expressly quotes the Old Testament passage from Isaiah, with its reference to ‘a voice, crying in the wilderness’, while the tone of Psalm 85 and the message of Peter’s second Epistle resonate with a similar theme -- the kind of faithfulness that looks to 'a new earth, where righteousness is at home'. In one way or another, then, all these readings point to two interconnected concepts -- repentance and restoration. 

The interconnection is crucial. Modern Christians widely, easily, and for the most part correctly, proclaim the unconditional love of God. God does not love the things he has made because of their merit, but because they are his. Still, sin is a reality. It is easy to see that human pride, cruelty and self-centredness erect barriers between human beings. But they erect no less a barrier between humanity and divinity. The central message of the Gospel – as of many religions – is that despite appearances, this barrier is surmountable. We have not shut ourselves off from God for ever.
John the Baptist -- Ivanov
Surmounting the barrier of sin, though, is a two sided affair. God’s love offers us forgiveness, however vile or despicable we may have been. In this sense divine love, unlike human love, is unconditional. But God's forgiveness is not. It has a precondition -- sincere repentance. Without honest acknowledgement and true remorse for the many ways in which we have fallen short of our God-given potential, we remain 'tied and bound by the chain of our sins', as the Book of Common Prayer puts it.

Peter’s Epistle expresses just this thought when it declares that God’s love is shown by his patience, ‘not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance’, while Mark's Gospel in a similar spirit offers ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. Repentance, however, also brings into play a deeper dimension. It is key to lifting us beyond the level of material beings created and nurtured out of love – which is what plants and other animals are. It draws us up into the realm of beings who have the potential to participate in divine life.

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