“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
The context of this Gospel call to penitence is the presence of the Kingdom of heaven: this comes first; this is the motivation and condition and the context within which repentance is something positive, a statement of “How Great Thou Art.” “This is the time of fulfillment”: this is central; this is what matters most. So the penitent heart is a response to a fullness that is present and beginning to open up before your eyes. This is not a call to repent in view of oneself, or in a kind of void.
Repentance is the response to an overwhelming presence, perceived and received in humble gratitude, like Isaiah in the Temple (“Woe is me!”) or that catch of fish by Simon's crew. “Leave me, Lord: I'm a sinful man.” The answer: Do not be afraid. So “when they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.” The penitent heart is not in the “leave me,” but here in the “following him,” the living out of the response. Just “leave me, I'm a sinner,” is a dead end, not a path of life.
“It is I; do not be afraid.” The penitent heart starts with the recognition of God's nearness: “penitence” is not a prerequisite or condition for drawing near to God, but a response to God's initiative. (No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.) God loved us first; the penitent heart is responding to that prior love. And the heart “treasures all those [signs of love] and ponders them”:
“It occurred to me that I should write not just memoirs—it sounds pompous—a sort of report, testimony about how generously, throughout my whole life, God gave me gifts; about the ray of light which I almost always felt and saw” (Schmemann, page 318).
The heart is flexible, in motion, not calcified, hardened, stiff, impenetrable—which would make it invulnerable and impervious. Instead, the penitent heart is a feminine heart: receptive and responsive. So the penitent heart is a pure heart: “Purity of heart proceeds not only from what we avoid, but from what we receive: the poverty of spirit which leads us to turn to God; the meekness that is a deep-seated strength...” (Bransfield, interview with Zenit about his book The Human Person: According to John Paul II).