3 EPIPHANY - B - 18 MARK 1.14-20
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Jesus’ first sermon echoes that of the prophet Jonah in today’s first lesson: repent and believe. Sounds more like a Lenten sermon doesn’t it? To repent and believe go hand in hand. Why should one repent if he is not going to believe, that is, accept the good news?
Jesus waited for the right moment to begin his ministry. John’s arrest was that moment in time. The purpose of the Old covenant was to prepare the people for Christ. John Baptist completed the preparation. The present age was ending and a new one just beginning. The coming of the Kingdom was at hand with Jesus as Messiah.
Jesus knew who he was from the moment of his baptism and what his mission and message was to be. Jonah, on the other hand, was a reluctant prophet. God sent him to a city that represented paganism at its worst. It was the last place on earth Jonah wanted to go.
Ninevah was the ancient capitol of Assyria. It was located on the eastern bank of the river Tigris opposite modern day Mosul. God sent Jonah there around 800 B.C. According to historians, the dimensions of the city were from 32 to 60 miles in circuit, which makes Jonah’s three-day journey around the city possible to believe.
Regardless of its size, Jonah did not want to be there. The Ninevites were the enemies of Israel. Yet he obeyed God and proclaimed to the inhabitants of the great city that in 40 days they would be destroyed if they did not repent. The people believed him and called for a fast. They openly repented of their sins and turned from their evil ways.
God accepted their change of heart and relented of the devastation he had planned to visit upon them. In contrast to Jesus, the message Jonah delivered was not about him, it was a message sent by God and gives us an insight into the character of God who does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he repent and live.
In Jesus’ case, it is a message about him, rather than a message by him, and it too reveals God’s true nature. God so loved the world that he sent his son, not to condemn it, but to save it. In sending Jesus, God initiated a divine rescue mission.
The old age of strife, evil and opposition to God would be replaced by the Kingdom of God and the way to enter it was by repentance and belief in the good news. Jesus is the good news. The message he preached brought new light on the nature and character of the One true God in contrast to the polytheism of the empire.
He preached that the time was fulfilled and that the kingdom of God was at hand. The whole of Mark’s gospel is an expression of this verse. A new day was about to dawn when the will and sovereignty of God will sway the hearts and thoughts of men. Those who would have the experience must repent.
Jesus stressed the importance of a complete break with the past. To repent is to do a total “about face.” The word in Greek literally means, “To change one’s mind.” Repentance is a radical change of one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart; a complete re-orientation to a life centered on Christ. Repentance and belief go hand in hand.
With Jesus, the kingdom of God was being ushered in and God in Christ was inviting all to enter by way of turning back to a true loyalty to God. This would mean they would have to tear themselves away from all they had trusted in before and believe and trust in what God was now doing in and through Christ. That was not easy then, and it is not easy now. There is always a cost to discipleship.
However, that is precisely what Peter and Andrew, James and John did, and it is what all Christians are called to do. Only when you think a bit about the sort of life Peter, Andrew, James and John had, and the totally unknown future Jesus was inviting them to, do you understand just how earth shattering this little story was and is.
To leave everything you have ever known, all of your security, even your family, and follow Jesus indeed calls for a radical departure. God’s grace helps us to come to new options that are possible for us. Our prejudices and our pride can be changed. Inner healing is possible. We can have peace of mind and heart.
But only if we break from the past and place our trust in Him who is the good news. True repentance is more than reluctant obedience (Jonah). It is a full change of heart. We have to be willing to change by doing that “about face” and believing in the good news. Are we ready to turn from hatred, prejudice, and fear, and accept openness, freedom and goodwill?
That is not just a Lenten question. It is a question we must answer on a daily basis as life has a way of challenging our loyalty to God. The basic thesis of Jesus’ coming is a declaration of God’s universal Love, of God’s willingness to receive and bless all who turn to Him in humble repentance and obedience.
God has an unfolding purpose for the world and we are meant to be part of it. We are not only invited to believe in the kingdom of God; we are invited to participate in ushering it in. We do this by being willing to accept our roles as disciples in proclaiming the good news, not by a reluctant obedience, as Jonah displayed, but in thanksgiving for God having rescued us through the merits of His Son, Jesus.
The calling of these early disciples is an example of the ideal response to God’s call to each of us as opposed to the response of Jonah. There is always a cost to discipleship, and that cost is different for each of us. However, the promise of God in Christ of new an unending life in Him is the same for all who repent and believe. AMEN+