3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Well, it is Catholic Schools week and I thought we could celebrate it by going to school. Class, let’s get ready to really understand one phrase from this Gospel reading because it is the key phrase in the entire Gospel of Mark from which we will be hearing this year.  Mark is simply the unpacking of the very first words we hear Jesus speak in the Gospel.  Do you remember topic sentences?  Do they still teach that?  The topic sentence was to contain all the information conveyed in the paragraph. This is the topic sentence for the Gospel of Mark.  “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Let’s break that down.  “This.”  The very first word is important.  It refers to a particular time and space.  What is going on is not out there.  Instead it is intimate, immediate and deeply connected to the person of Jesus.  “This” is already indicating an urgency and a time for decision. From the very first word, Jesus is putting us on notice of the momentous movement and opportunity that is represented in his ministry.  Indeed, that is represented in his person. (Don’t worry, not each word is getting its own paragraph.)

“This is the time.”   The time that this is, is not regular time.  It is a suspended era that reaches from the moment these words first escape his lips to right now.  It is the time of the reign of Jesus the Lord.  It is why we can hear these words with the same closeness and the same urgency as those upon whose ears they actually landed.  In an everlasting time, we have the opportunity to say yes to “this” – everything that Jesus has planned and wanted for us.   This time is our friend inviting to join in the journey of Jesus Christ.

“This is the time of fulfillment.”  What is being fulfilled?  In the Hebrew Bible, God has made many beautiful promises.  There shall be a prophet like Moses (which Jesus, the new lawgiver clearly is), the law will no longer be found just on scrolls, but written in your heart (perfected in the gift of the Spirit).  But most fervently of all, there was a hope for a Messiah, a Savior, one who would bring ultimate peace and ultimate justice. One who would belong to God in a particular and unrepeatable way.  One who would show the very face of God.  When Jesus promises a time of fulfillment, he is saying that their prayers have been heard by God and their hopes are now realized. Their dreams are to come true even beyond their imagination so great is the gift.  And the message is the person who utters it.

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom.” Let’s stop there.  Who exercises kingly power in the Roman Empire?  No one other than Caesar.  Caesar is brutal, power hungry, intimidating, arrogant and violent.  Look how Jesus’ one brush with the machinery that was Rome turned out.  And King Herod we know, though less powerful, was no better.  So the image of king was an oppressive one, especially to the common folk to whom Jesus spoke.

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God.”  Now we know whose kingdom this belongs to.  It is to be God’s kingdom.  But will this God prove to be different than the other kings?  We all know people who have rejected God.  I sometimes ask them how they perceived God to be.  And they will see that they thought of God as arrogant, powerful, uncaring and unconnected.  Just like the kings we spoke of.  If I believed in such a God, I too would be an atheist which would be a difficult professional decision in my life.  Many have said it is not important as to what kind of God you believe in as long as you believe in God.  I think nothing could be more important than what kind of God you believe in.

And we will need to know quickly what kind of God this is because “the kingdom of God is at hand.”  We are swirling in the midst of that which Jesus has begun.  This moment is calling for a decision, an action.

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent.”  Repent is the action we are called to.  We often think of that in terms of confessing our sins, and it covers that, but its meaning is much broader.  The Greek word for repent is metanoia.  I don’t know a lot of Greek but this I remember because it begins with Met!  Metanoia is a call for conversion.  Its literal meaning is to turn around.  If I face one way, I have a certain perspective.  If I face the other, I literally have a completely different perspective.  The change Jesus wants is for us to look at things differently during this time.  We are to orient ourselves to the kingdom of God.  We are capable of changing.  Indeed, we must.  And as we look differently with a new view, we also have an idea that we are likely looking at a different kind of God.

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe.”  It always comes down to faith.  Will we have the courage to change, to follow God more closely?  May we follow without knowing precisely everything this God will ask of you, without knowing precisely everywhere this God will take you, without knowing precisely exactly where you fit in?  If you knew what would be asked of you, where you will be headed and where you fit in, it would not require belief, only observation.  We are asked to believe and trust in this new way.  This is the time.

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Gospel of course means good news. Now we definitively know what kind of God we are talking about.  The one who brings good news.  Not god news to the rich and the powerful, but the one who tells good news to the common and the poor.   Good news is not the triumph of the mighty but the lifting of the lowly.  The good news this God brings is justice, mercy, peace and love.  It is why we should repent, change our lives and believe in him.  And this is not a program of policies and good deeds. The good news is a person. The good news is Jesus Christ.

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  It is not only a way of understanding Mark’s Gospel; it is a way of understanding our lives.  We are in the chosen and grace filled time of this everlasting moment where are hopes are more than fulfilled.  Our imagination of what is possible is exceeded.  We are citizens of a kingdom for which humanity yearns, a fulfillment of our highest goals implanted in us by God.  The kingdom is ready.  Let us be open to changing our lives to grow closer to God.  Let us have faith in what our God promises and let us trust it will always be nothing short of perfect love.  Let us believe in Jesus Christ.  “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”