As the Church begins Ordinary Time, we are taken to the beginning of the public ministry of the Lord Jesus. As we hear the account of the call of the early disciples, we are invited to hear again the same call in each of our hearts.
This year, Saint Mark’s Gospel describes the Lord’s journey around the Sea of Galilee, his nascent preaching, and the invitation he offered to his initial followers.
The message of Jesus was clear and simple: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Although only a mustard seed of a message, it carried immense weight and meaning. The interior power of the proclamation convinced many to leave the world they knew and to follow the Lord.
What’s in this bold announcement? What’s hidden beneath its surface?
The Lord begins by proclaiming a time of fulfillment. Such language was immersed in a rich biblical context. It has prophetic overtures and connected to an ancient and profound sense of messianic hope. In addition, it had a personal application to each listener. It connects to the desire of every human heart for the fulfillment of its own desires and aspirations, then as now.
Following the theme of fulfillment, the Lord speaks of “the Kingdom of God” being “at hand.” Any mention of a kingdom would have provoked memories and a fondness for King David and his mighty kingdom of old. The message would have also given inspiration to the original listeners, since Israel was being occupied by a Gentile power and any mention of a kingdom would have spoken of independence and of a freedom from Rome.
The topic of kingdom would have also resonated personally in the minds of the Lord’s hearers, and with every human mind, since a kingdom implies a conquest of undesirable things and a triumph of what is loved and valued.
Only after having presented the time of fulfillment and of kingdom, could the Lord Jesus move forward and present a call for repentance and belief.
What does it mean to repent? And what are we called to believe?
In life, people spend a lot of energy to accomplish their tasks and duties. People invest a great portion of strength to live their lives and address the matters at hand. A call to repentance, however, challenges this status quo. It calls on people to pause and evaluate where things are and where they’d want them to be.
Repentance demands honesty. It acknowledges where there are faults and omissions and provokes a change of direction. Repentance is about conversion and renewal.
As with the people in Galilee over two millennia ago, so with most believers today, people find relief in what is known. We all appreciate what we’re familiar with. We comfortable with what helps us to find rest and leisure.
And so, any call to repentance is discomforting. It’s out of the ordinary. And that’s why it oftentimes falls on deaf ears. People might like the idea of change, but actions are often lacking.
The reality of such a predominant response, and the fact that the early disciples went against it, shows the force of the Lord’s message. The proclamation of the Lord called people out of their slumber and against their casual way of life. He invited them to follow a new way and so he announced, “Believe in the gospel.”
The gospel, the good news, trumpeted a different way in human history. It’s a way of love and mercy and a way of peace and reconciliation. The gospel promises fulfillment and kingdom, even as it requires conversion and true belief.
If the gospel way of life is responded to and chosen, then it transforms everything. Every part of life, every way of thinking, is turned around. The life of the Christian is marked by constant newness and a steady call for rejuvenation. There is no status quo. There is no plateau.
The journey along the way of the Lord Jesus requires a new heart. It demands a total surrender of everything. It constantly moves toward eternity.
In the Lord’s day, many heard the message any many passed on the invitation. A few people, however, heard the proclamation, understood its power, repented, and believed. They chose to follow. It changed their lives. And – through them – it changed the world.
In our day, and in our own lives, the Lord offers the same message. It has the same strength and power for transformation as it did over 2,000 years ago. It is still an unstoppable force for love and mercy. But, if the gospel message is to bring about renewal and goodness in our world – as it has for generations before – then we must hear it proclaimed, accept it in our hearts, and allow it to work through us.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby