Wright, in today’s commentary, has given me a new perspective on some old familiar concepts.
The message of repentance being aimed at the Zeitgeist – the “received wisdom” of society – that’s a new one on me. I’ve always understood it as a personal call to individuals. Which it is… but this wider picture, of the call to repentance as a call to turn from our wrong notions of what the kingdom of God is and how it can be achieved, makes so much sense.
However, what struck me forcibly as I read the passage in Matthew, before I read the commentary, was something completely different – and also a new perspective.
John was Jesus’ cousin.
And John had pointed out Jesus to all within earshot – no doubt including the Establishment observers who were even then keeping a close eye on this potential trouble-maker in the desert with his way-out diet and clothing – as greater than John, bringing a baptism of fire.
From that moment, Jesus was also a marked man.
Jesus had submitted to the baptism of repentance – of turning towards God and his kingdom – which John was offering.
Jesus then went away alone in to the desert with no provisions to wrestle with God, himself and the Enemy about the true nature both of God’s kingdom and of Jesus’ role in it.
So Jesus himself repented – made the choice to turn towards the true Kingdom.
Jesus turned from being a carpenter – the life-path no doubt mapped out for him by his parents and community – and accepted the role of prophet.
Jesus turned from the Kingdom-theology he’d grown up with as a normal Jewish boy and accepted the new revelation from God.
And then, having made all of these massive commitments, Jesus returns to society and discovers what?
That John has been arrested.
This will not end well… everyone knew what Herod did to those who got on the wrong side of him, who threatened his personal security.
And Jesus’ response?
To put on the mantle of John and preach publicly that repentance was required because the kingdom of God was coming fast.
His response was to stay true to the repentance he had already undergone, to the choices he had already made.
And that in the growing awareness that if the message continued to be rejected, he would end up where John was, or worse…..
Ignatius of Loyola taught of two spiritual states – consolation and desolation. These are technical terms and nothing to do with emotional states.
Consolation is when our entire being is facing God in love and acceptance of him and his will for us – from the Latin “with the sun” – we might say “walking in the light”.
Desolation is when we are struggling with darkness – once definition I’ve found useful is “desolation is when God is inviting you to face and deal with an issue and you’re resisting”.
The overriding principle that goes with this is that decisions – especially big ones – should be made when in consolation.
And even more importantly – never change a big decision made in consolation when you are in desolation…
Of course, once back in consolation, the decision can be re-visited and might need to be re-appraised, but usually it remains the right one.
So that, to answer Wright’s final question, is what the call to repentance says to me personally. Stick with the big decisions made in consolation, and when in desolation turn back to the Light – or at the very least, try not to turn deliberately away from the Light.