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Friends, today’s Gospel reports the mixed reactions of people to Jesus’ message. What does he say as he preaches? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We mustn’t flatten this out or render it too spiritually abstract, as though he were talking only about becoming nicer people, more generous and more kind. His preaching was about more than that. It was part and parcel of his messianic vocation.

What he was saying was something like this: a new order is breaking out in Israel, the tribes are coming back together, and Yahweh is going to reign. Therefore, adjust your lives, your vision, your expectations. Start living even now as members of this new kingdom.

Israelites knew that a major task of the Messiah was to engage the enemies of Israel, to deal definitively with those powers opposed to God’s creative purpose. This very much included political oppressors, religious charlatans, and self-absorbed Pharisees—all of whom Jesus deals with and confronts.