One of Jesus’ habitual practices is to send his friends ahead of him, to wherever he is going. We see this on the last day before he is killed, when he sends two of his friends ahead to prepare the Passover meal he will share with his disciples. We see it earlier in the Gospels, when he sends first the Twelve and then a much larger group of his followers to go before him to all the places he was heading to, to prepare the community for his arrival. In Mark 6:7-13 we read, ‘So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.’
To repent means to turn around. It can refer to turning away from something, or turning towards something. Specifically, to turning from sin—the habitual patterns and practices of our words, thoughts and actions that are poisonous to us, and others—and turning to Christ. What I love about Jesus’ friends going ahead of him to a place and proclaiming that the people they find there should repent, is the image of them saying, ‘Look, back down the road we have arrived on: see, Jesus is coming!’
Sometimes, the repentance we need is to turn back to ourselves. We are surely all familiar with the image of a small child having a tantrum. They do so, not because they are being naughty, but because they are overwhelmed. We say, they are beside themselves. That’s an odd, but incredibly perceptive, phrase. And it doesn’t only apply to toddlers. Whenever we are overwhelmed, by anxiety, or grief, we may find ourselves beside ourselves, at a lesser or greater distance, needing to turn back to ourselves. To our true self, a beloved child of God.
And the image that comes to mind is of Jesus coming to meet us, to sit with us, to say, ‘My child. That is A Lot. I’m so very sorry.’ Not offering us platitudes, as so many do when they are beside themselves with worry about what to say, or be. No ‘Cheer up. It might never happen!’—so often, the thing that has overwhelmed us has already happened, and cannot be undone. No attempt to fix our problem for us. Simply his effective Prescence, as Comforter and Healer.
Sometimes, we need someone, one of Jesus’ friends, who will put their arm around our shoulder, gently help us turn around, and say, ‘Look! Here He comes!’
And sometimes, secure in the knowledge of that love, we get to be the friends who, in joyful expectation, get to proclaim, Repent!
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