If you were asked to summarize the message of Jesus in the Gospels in a couple of sentences, could you do it? Now before you scramble to creatively work on such a noble project, understand that Jesus himself has already done this. In three brief sentences Jesus gives us the Gospel in miniature. He sounds a kind of keynote upon which all else will be built. And it was presented in today’s Gospel for the first day in “”Ordinary Time” (tempus per anum in Latin). And what are those opening words? Today’s gospel from Mark supplies them:
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:34)
Now these three utterances of Jesus are rich in meaning and we do well to examine them and also to rescue them from often flat and surface understandings.
This is the time of fulfillment– Now the translation here lacks a little precision since the Greek (πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς) says more literally “The time is fulfilled.” It is time itself that is fulfilled or completed not just that these are fulfilling times. It is true that many things are being fulfilled (prophecies, longings, expectations) but so is time itself. Why does this matter? In a word: URGENCY. The time is now. THIS is the time. This is a critical moment and don’t let this moment pass you by. Consider perhaps if we were waiting for a train. And finally it comes! But this arrival is also a critical moment. Time to get on board! Time to act. Time to move. The time is now here. What we have waited for is present. But simply admiring the moment is not enough. Something is now expected of us. We have to act now. So this first sentence is one of urgency. Over and over again Jesus will tell parables building on this theme reminding us again and again that we know not the day or the the hour. That we must be ready (e.g. Luke 12:40; Mk 13:37; Matt 25:13, among many others). Now there is an old preacher’s story that goes like this: Three demons met with the devil to discuss their plans to bring large numbers to Hell and to be chosen head demon. The first demon said, “I will tell them there is no God.” But the devil said, “You will not get many that way for most know deep down that God does exist for he wrote His name in their hearts.” The second demon said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” But the devil said, “You will only get a few since most know deep down that hell exists and many have already made visits here.” So the third demon said, “I’m going to tell them there is no hurry!” And the devil smiled and said, “You’re the one!” And so it is that the time is fullfilled. The long expected moment when God would act is now. It’s decision time. So choose, now. Tomorrow is not promised.
- The Kingdom of God is at hand – A kingdom is a place where the will of a king is manifest. Where what he says is done and is made so. A kingdom is a place where resources are directed to implementing the will of the king. Therefore the Kingdom of God is that place or condition wherein the will of God is manifest. It is a place where God’s power and will are tangible, real, and where resources are dedicated to carrying out God’s will. Now note that the text says it is “at hand.” It is not merely in some far off heaven, or in the distant future. It is breaking in now and is available to you and me right now. We are now able to reject the prince of this world, Satan, and enter into the Kingdom of God. A completely new life is available to us because a new ruler, Jesus, can begin to take authority over our lives if we let him. And he will begin to break the bonds of sin and this world and make us free. He will put sin to death and bring forth grace upon grace. And we will be completely transformed. This is now at hand, this is available to us. Too many people today think of holiness as “unreasonable” or “too demanding” and “unrealistic.” But Jesus simply says that a completely new life is available to us right now, a life in a new Kingdom, ruled not by the prince of this world but by the Lord Jesus Christ. We access this by faith and its effects reach us through the grace of the sacraments, prayer, the life of the Church, and the teaching of the Apostles (cfActs 2:42). Too many Christians have lost the notion that a completely transformed and radically different way is now available to them. They are resigned to mediocrity and have low expectations about what their relationship with Jesus Christ can do for them. Perhaps too there is slothful aversion to real transformation. But Jesus died on the cross to make this kingdom available to us. Is mediocrity, worldliness, bondage to sin and spiritual boredom the best that the death of the Son of God can do? Surely not! He has given us full access to a kingdom where every virtue and, glory, joy and perfection are available to us. Enter it with high expectations! It is at hand and available!
- Repent– The Greek word translated here as “repent” is μετανοεῖτε (metanoeite). Now more literally this means to come to a new mind or a new way of thinking. Most people think of repenting as adopting better moral behavior. Surely μετανοεῖτε includes this but it is far richer and deeper. In scripture the “mind” is a far greater concept than the “brain” or even the intellect. The mind in scripture is the deepest part of the human person where we, think, experience, consider, have memories, deliberate and decide. Ultimately it is where we “live” where that aspect that we call the “self” IS. So the Lord is inviting us to do far more than behave well. He is calling us to a complete inner transformation of our very self, of how we think, of how we experience the world, of how we understand the meaning of things. Clearly this will affect our beavior as well for behavior begins with thought: Sow a thought, reap a deed, sow a deed, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap a character, sow a character, reap a destiny. It all begins in the mind, that deep inner part of us. St. Paul links the beginning of transformation to the renewing of our minds: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2). What a glorious gift to accept from God, a transformed mind! I have greatly rejoiced in what God has done to my mind in the past 25 years. I think so much more scripturally, perceive differently, rejoice in the truth, have better priorities, love more, have greater confidence, more joy, more patience, more! Thank you Lord for the renewing of my mind! May you who have begun a good work in me bring it to completion (cf Phil 1).
- and believe the Gospel– The word “Gospel” is not merely good news because it conveys good or pleasant information: The Gospel is not just informative speech but performative speech— not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform (Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth, p. 47) So Jesus is teaching us to accept this performative and transformative word, to believe it’s power by basing our lives on the reality it both teaches and conveys. Belief always involves more than mere intellectual adhearance to revealed truth. It is also involves the response of the will, it brings forth real decisions from us to base our lives on its truth.
So here it is, the Gospel in Miniature. Jesus is teaching us in the opening words of his public ministry to come to accept and believe the good news that a new Kingdom and new life, and a new mind are now available to us. We must believe and allow its in-breaking power into our lives now, not later. If we do this we can expect remarkable and on-going transformation of both our moral life and our inner life for, as St. Paul puts it, the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).
This song says, “A Wonderful change has come over me. He Changed my life completely….I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be….A Wonderful change has come over me.
I am aware that not all of you like performance Gospel Music, but the message of this song is too strong to ignore.