The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 4:12-17
Whenever an architect begins a building project he must always start with one question. Whenever a coach is dealing with young athletes he must begin with the same question. Whenever a skilled piano instructor takes a new pupil her first concern will be the same. A teacher who wants to see his or her children succeed will focus on this. When a politician is looking to help his country instead of benefiting a few, he must also look into this same issue.
What is it that connects all of these professions so clearly? It is the recognition of a foundation. In every discipline or aspect in life there must be a solid understanding of the foundation upon which the subject itself is built. The architect must know that the foundations are solid in order to ensure the stability of what will be built on top of it. No matter how beautiful it may be, it will not withstand the pressures if the foundation is not solid. The school teacher of the past was known for drilling and forcing memorization because repetition is the mother of learning and it builds a foundation for the young mind. There is no reasons to go into algebra when a child can barely remember simple addition and subtraction. A politician who looks only to the future without understanding the foundations of our country and the intentions of the founders is reckless. He is lost because he doesn’t build on solid ground. He may have built on promises, and hopes and even a few good intentions, but without solid footing one might as well build on a trash heap.
What does all of this have to do with today’s gospel reading? Plenty. We celebrated the baptism of the Lord Jesus last week and now we hear the Lord as He begins His ministry. He goes out and preaches teaching the people about the kingdom of God wherever He happens to be. What is the first word out of the mouth of the Lord as He begins to teach? What is the word that the whole Earth, indeed the whole universe has sought to hear from it’s very foundations? What is it that the Son of God will tell us first…..Repent.
As Christians we are called to know and understand the foundation for a solid spiritual life. It is no use talking about anything if we don’t first learn how to repent. Neither the gifts of the Spirit, nor physical healing nor memorizing verses of Scripture nor knowing the whole library of writings from the Church fathers will benefit us if we have not started from a place of repentance.
What is repentance? It is the act of turning back to God. The very first part of turning back to Him is acknowledging that there is a problem. We have to be honest about who we are and what we have done with our lives. We have to examine not just our outward acts, but also our inner thoughts, desires and beliefs. We do all of this now with careful scrutiny in order to make sure that the foundation is solid. Often when men and women have fallen away from the Church we see that if we are honest, the foundation was not properly set to begin with. We can do all the outward things correctly but that will not translate to true repentance.
To my knowledge one of the very best indicators of sincerity, honesty and humility is the ability to go to those you have wronged and apologize. This is also the case in sacramental confession. Sometimes people will come to go through the motions while being vague or saying they have no sins to confess. God doesn’t need that type of repentance. He is looking for those who understand how much He loves us and how much we reject Him. Repentance is about getting to the heart of the matter. Repentance is about knowing just how far away from God we actually are. That can be difficult when we don’t know the word of God and when we are told that nothing is a sin anymore. But no matter what type of delusion our world creates for us, no matter what type of delusion we create in our own minds….we are forced to remember the word of Christ “Repent”. Repent means change your life. Repent means feel sorry for your sins. Repent means go out of your way to do better. Repent means struggle and pray to develop new habits. Repent means absolutely, positively getting rid of whatever is not pleasing to God that is taking up time and space in your heart and in your life. Repentance is no joke.
We are uncomfortable talking about reality. We don’t want to believe that God is a judge. We don’t want to believe that punishment awaits those who do not love and obey God. Much of this feeling is a direct result of protestant theology that tells us that works have absolutely nothing to do with salvation. They cling to a handful of verses while ignoring the other 99% of Scripture. That is the definition of delusion as the Lord says “’These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8). Repentance is all about the true desires of the heart.
St. Basil the great writes “When life is over, there is no longer any opportunity for improving piety.” I’m not telling you these things to make you uncomfortable, I’m telling you so that you will have a chance now to repent and change your ways while there is still time. Christ doesn’t call us to mediocrity, He calls us to perfection in as much as it is possible by the grace of God. The pure in heart will see God. What have we done recently to purify our hearts and minds? Have we read the lives of the saints with our children? Have we had family prayer time? Have we gone out of our comfort to do works of mercy and charity? Would the Lord be able to distinguish my family from the average American family in any way shape or form?
Because God loves us, He offers a second chance. He wants to have fellowship with us. He wants to occupy all of our hearts. No matter what we have done or where we have been, Christ offers forgiveness to those who really desire it. He offers healing to those who pour out their hearts to Him and even more so to those who come and confess within the walls of the Church. Don’t hesitate to come and find healing and rest for your souls because you will also find a firm foundation on which to build your whole life… Glory be to God Forever AMEN.