On my index page I say: “I am convinced of the gospel (the good news; Mark 1:14-15) in its Quaker understanding (“Christ has come to teach his people himself”).” Mark (1:15b) tells us that Jesus preached “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” There are several troublesome words that need unpacking. Gospel, or good news, is one. I take it to be that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” That leads us to the word “kingdom.” What is the kingdom? Suffice it to say for now that the kingdom is where God is recognized, and obeyed, as Lord. I like to think our meetings are outposts of the kingdom.
But the word “repent” is what this blog is about. Repent, in Greek (in which the New Testament was written) is metanoia (μετάνόος). There are other possible translations, and we must keep in mind that metanoia is itself, in all likelihood, a translation of an Aramaic word which Jesus would have used. “Repent,” in less theologically loaded terms means a transformation or paradigm shift, a coming around to a new understanding. First, what is the old understanding from which we are to turn away? What is that of which we are to repent?
It is the materialistic self centered world view of which we are to repent: one motivated by arrogance and greed. We are called to value the spiritual rather than the material (Matthew 6:19-21). Instead of self centered we are to be empathetic and loving. We are to see things through God’s eyes, or as Meister Eckhart put it “My eye and God’s eye is one eye” (sermon 4).
Both Jesus, and his cousin John the Baptist, condemned the self centered arrogance and materialism of the Jewish religious and political establishment: the Sanhedrin (ruling council), the priests, and the tax collectors (collaborators with the Romans), all of whom did fairly well under Roman rule. We find in the Romans a hedonism in addition to the arrogance and greed of the Jewish establishment, but they embraced their . But it was the hypocrisy of the wealthy Jews that drew the ire of Jesus and John. They and the Pharisees were hypocrites, professing religiosity while condemning the less fortunate: the poor (too poor to maintain ritual purity) and sick (he healed, in particular, those whose disease excluded them from the synagogue).
Jesus taught a gospel of love, in Greek agápē (ἀγάπη), love of God and love of neighbor (e.g. Luke 10:27).”He taught that ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’” The first part of this is from the Shema, a prayer from Deuteronomy said daily by observant Jews. The second is one of the relatively minor rules from Leviticus (19:18) which Jesus raised to second in importance. agápē is an act of will , not of emotion. (“to desire and do good for another” in the words of one of my professors) When asked who is my neighbor he told the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
In Jesus’ parables the bad example, usually a secondary character, is the one who puts his (or her) interest first. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the priest and the Levitt both act quite reasonably. Neither is willing to risk ritual impurity by touching this person. It is the Samaritan who shows compassion. In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) the older son is rebuked for being concerned with his own inheritance more than the return of the younger son (v 28-32), again a reasonable position but not one for which Jesus has sympathy.
Many Friends (Quakers) are not comfortable with the word “repent.” It sounds condemnatory. We believe there is that of God in everyone. What we often forget is that over the years most of us (all of us?) have build a shell of defenses around that primary core. Again quoting Meister Eckhart “A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.” To repent is to peel away those skins or hides. If that wasn’t true there would have been no need for George Fox to admonish Friends to “answer that of God in everyone.” We’d be doing it. And this calls for deep listening.