Much of today’s gospel lesson focus on “that day” when judgment comes. Jesus says, “…it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon that for you.” And again he makes the same comparison with Sodom. In other words, when that great and terrible day comes, you’ll be in trouble. But there are always some bracketed words that go along with that statement. And they represent a huge “if.”
On that day of judgment, it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for you…IF you don’t repent. Projected statements of judgment almost always have a conditional quality. It’s the great Jonah and Nineveh story. Trouble is coming…IF you don’t repent. And the attempt to bring the reality of that future destruction into the present in order to facilitate the repentance is well attested. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent now before it’s too late.”
But just how far away is too late?
God has been sending his messengers to earth to call us back to him over and over and over for thousands of years. When will it be too late? God seems to always been in the business of welcoming back the lost and accepting the repentance of the wayward. How much time is really left?
I’m not sure God’s judgment is a temporal reality. Although I’m not denying the belief in a one-time great judgment, I am speculating that our primary experience of judgment isn’t reserved for some far away future moment. Instead, I think God’s judgment pervades all time. When is it too late to repent? Almost never. But why would you wait?
God wants us to be in his flock. He is eager to welcome us back. He’s not hiding in the bushes hoping time will run out so he can jump out and send us to hell. God wouldn’t bother sending one prophet after another with the same message (usually futile) if he wasn’t wanting us to repent. The real threat of judgment is living even one more day unaware of God’s mercy. The real consequence of God’s wrath is being out of step with God’s will for even one more hour.
Yes, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Yes, the day of judgment is coming. But that day is today. It is now. And it will be again tomorrow. Putting off your repentance is cutting yourself off from God’s grace, and that might as well be a life spent in hell.