All Saints Episcopal Church, Hilton Head Island, SC
February 1, 2006
Moving through the season of Epiphany, I was struck by one verse in the Gospel of Mark in the reading for the third Sunday of Epiphany. The Gospel focus is the obvious calling of the two sets of brothers on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Their call is dramatic and beyond full human understanding, as they leave everything--including a father, not to mention professions as fishermen--to follow an itinerant preacher, one who has the power to heal. But before the dramatic "calls" of Andrew and Simon, James and John, Mark attributes these first words of Jesus the adult, beginning his ministry. The single verse is meant to be for St. Mark the overarching theme for his gospel and from Jesus a statement about himself and the depth and breadth of his earthly ministry. Succinctly, Jesus offers an understanding, a blueprint of a working relationship with humanity.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." Mark 1: 14
This verse says as much about us as it does about the nature and purpose of Jesus, who is the Christ. Such a short verse carries a great deal of meaning to and implications for our lives.
Given that Mark is considered the earliest gospel to be brought together in narrative form, I realized that this verse may represent the first words we have of Jesus. And they are powerful and significant. "The time is fulfilled..." His message of the "kingdom of God" and "repentance" is very similar to the prophetic message of John the Baptist, except for one significant difference: whereas John sought people to prepare for the coming of the "one," Jesus' words and exhortation are in the present tense...the time is here, now. There is no waiting; it is not some time reserved for the future.. . the time is fulfilled.
The Kingdom of God is at hand... We are left to wonder about the meaning of these words, particularly as they are offered from Jesus himself. Often we may think of the Kingdom of God as though it were a destination at the end of our lives, a reward for faith. In this particular instance, it is believed Jesus is referring to the here and now, and it represents a state of being...as if we are connected eternally to our God with a mystical and holy connection that is very much part of our consciousness in our daily lives. The Kingdom of God is not out there somewhere, but within us at our deepest level of being. That is what faith in Jesus can and does provide.
Jesus, in this short verse, simply says repent, a word that often has mixed and stereotypical implications for the Christian, and I might add, non-Christians alike. The Greek word for repent is literally to "turn one's own mind around." In Hebrew and Aramaic it means, "to turn around 180 degrees, to reorient one's whole attitude within the demands of Faith." To repent is not necessarily to explore individual sins and make appropriate adjustments. But Jesus is calling on us to reorient our lives and attitudes to be able to hear Christ's word, to respond to the demands of Christ, and to honor his place in our lives...not as some distant Savior, or in a mechanical way as if there is no personal relationship and fellowship. To repent is seen as a new way of life that reorients ourselves to a living and loving God.
And finally, Jesus says, "believe in the
gospel." That has the ring of something that would have been said by leaders
of the early church, encouraging faith in uncertain times. When life is in a
tizzy, when things don't add up, believe in the gospel. But coming from
the lips of Jesus himself, I believe he is referring to himself. There are many
gospels out, there, all purporting to tell the truth.
Jesus is the embodiment of the gospel's good news. The Gospel is Jesus the Christ, that is sufficient to claim as our own truth, whatever age or circumstances we find ourselves in. Believe in the Gospel.
With few words Jesus offers each of us the prospect of an incredibly deep relationship that flows mysteriously. We offer a reorientation of our lives, and in turn we gain the Kingdom of God.. .here and now. This is our time in the region of Galilee, with Jesus our Lord and Savior.
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