Mk 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5.10
I’d like us to consider today what were the FIRST words ever said by the Lord Jesus. Because in today’s Gospel, St Mark gives us what he portrays as the first PUBLIC words of the Lord, the first words He said to the crowds, the first words indicating His MESSAGE. In contrast, I looked up what we heard in the Gospel last week, which recorded from St John the start of the Lord’s public life, and had His first words as, “What are you seeking for?”(Jn 1:38) -words that’s that weren’t His message addressed to the crowd, but were words addressed in a personal encounter -words that point out how the Lord Jesus satisfies what people are seeking for. This, in fact, is a point that St John repeatedly notes in the various encounters he records between people meeting Jesus. Time and again: People meet Jesus, they sense something in Him that will satisfy, and so the question from Him, “What are you seeking for?” sums this up.
Back to St Mark, however, and those first PUBLIC words, words to the crowds, encapsulating His message. The Church presents them to us today along with our first reading from the prophet Jonah. In Jonah we heard of how Jonah went to Nineveh and brought a call to repentance, and of how the people responded to that call by “renouncing their evil behaviour”(Jonah 3:10). And the point is this: the first public words of the Lord Jesus LIKEWISE brought a call to change: “Repent and believe the Good News”(Mk 1:15). More fully: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent…”(Mk 1:15) -this, as St Mark very deliberately portrays it, sums up the whole message of Jesus and His mission.
Let me be emphatic about a point: MEETING JESUS brings an automatic call to REPENT, a call to change my life.
I noted last week that Samuel couldn’t recognize the call of the Lord because he didn’t yet “know” Him (1 Sam 3:7). I noted also that just as the first disciples were prepared for the call to “follow” Him (Jn 1:43) by first being called to “come and see”(Jn 1:39) -to spend time with Him. And I said that you and I need to spend time with Him daily by reading the Gospels and praying.
There is, however, something MORE that happens when I spend time with Jesus, when I get to know Him. And what happens is this: I automatically start to compare His life with mine; to see how I don’t measure up to the love, the compassion, the generosity, the hard work, the perseverance, and so forth, that I see I the Lord’s earthly life. And so, to spend time with the Lord automatically brings a call to repentance, a call to change. And I receive that call to change from the same One who empowers me, by His grace, to be forgiven for my past and enabled to live differently for the future.
When Christ came He didn’t just come as another prophet. He came as the fulfillment of all that was promised. And so He said, “the time is fulfilled”(Mk 1:15). He came as the living embodiment of God’s reign on earth, and so He said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand”(Mk 1:15). He came calling us to a new way of life, and so He said, “repent”(Mk 1:15).
And so last week’s Gospel with the PERSONAL call to spend time with Him as the foundation of the call to “follow” Him, is actually making the same point as this week’s Gospel with the PUBLIC call to “repent” and enter into a new way a life -a new way of life that is now possible because we have met Him.