“Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus says as he begins his public ministry. The call is accompanied by the great news that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Once again, this Sunday, we hear accounts from the beginning of the ministry. Last week we heard from the Gospel according to John, this week from Mark. In both accounts we see the role of John the Baptist reaching its climax. He is the one to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Now that the Lord is here, John’s role is fulfilled.
In last week’s account, he had identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God” to Andrew and an unnamed disciple. They leave John to follow Jesus. In this Sunday’s account, we hear that John has been arrested. Similar to both accounts is that as Jesus begins his ministry, he calls or invites people to discipleship and they have the opportunity to respond.
The invitation to follow is given in the words: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” “Come after me” in some other English translations is rendered simply as “follow me.” Jesus remains the focus in the call. “Come after me,” or “follow me,” he says. The following entails a relationship. The disciple enters into a relationship with Jesus. It is through this relationship that the disciple will know, experience and enter into the Kingdom of God.
In last week’s account, Jesus invites the two to discipleship with the words: “Come and you will see.” Their response was to stay with Jesus. They remain with him and quickly come to realize that he was the Messiah (Christ).
In today’s account the disciples hear the call and leave everything behind to respond. This account helps us reflect on some other aspects of accepting the Lord’s invitation to discipleship. The two in particular are repentance and faith, which Jesus proclaims as he announces that the Kingdom of God is near.
Jesus calls to repent. The word is translated from metanoia. The literal meaning is “change one’s mind.” The call is to re-think one’s vision of life. Those who accept the call to discipleship are invited to view life through the lens of the Kingdom of God — in other words, God’s vision for life. There is a “turning” involved. Turning away and turning toward. Turning away from those things that are not part of God’s vision and focusing on those which are of God.
Focusing on God’s way is a focus on Jesus and all that he is. A lot of times, we think of turning from evil to good or vice to virtue and this is indeed part of the process. Great spiritual writers often speak of this stage as the first steps in building our relationship with Christ. Since in God there is no evil or vice, the purging of these naturally draw us closer to him. But it does not stop there.
The process continues throughout life of not just moving from bad things to good things but even turning from good things to better ones. Why would this matter? What’s the point of that? Perhaps the “good things” become a distraction to us; perhaps they inhibit us; or perhaps we begin to discover something more, something more life-giving or more satisfying. The response we make to the Lord is ongoing.
As we keep our focus on Christ it is as if we become the clay in the hands of the potter (Isaiah 64:8). He shapes and molds us into the persons we are called to be. Needless to say, this requires humility and an open heart. Repenting opens our minds and hearts to the will of God and disposes us to act accordingly.
Jesus calls us to believe in the Gospel. Here he is not speaking about the written word specifically for it will be many years before these are written. Rather the Gospel, many times translated “good news,” is his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. When we look closely at the four written accounts, we soon realize that the Good News is Jesus himself. Through him we encounter and come to know the unseen God who has taken flesh among us.
The call to believe is the call to follow. Similar to the call to repentance, our focus is on Christ. He is the one who reveals the Father’s vision for creation and humanity in particular.
Two thousand years ago Jesus came to Galilee saying: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Today he comes to us saying those same words and inviting us to experience all that the Father has to offer.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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