When asked what Jesus preached about the most, many people answer, “love” or “forgiveness” or “mercy.” While it is true that Jesus spoke of these themes very often, there is another that is even more central to His preaching: the Kingdom of God. And this is exactly what we see in this Sunday’s gospel as Jesus begins His public ministry proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15).
To some, this might sound similar to the sort of modern-day preachers who stand on street corners and shout at people to repent because the end of the world is near. Any similarity, however, is only superficial. Jesus proclaims not a doomsday message, but good news; not a warning, but an invitation. God’s kingdom is not forced on anyone. Christ leaves room for an entirely free and voluntary response. This also means that membership is not automatic. It is not like an earthly kingdom, where a person becomes a subject of a king or a citizen of a country by virtue of their place of birth. Instead, membership in the kingdom of God is a gift—a gift that is offered to all, but that must be freely accepted.
How does one accept this gift? This is what the second part of Jesus’ proclamation tells us: repent and believe in the gospel. To repent does not mean to beat ourselves up about our sinfulness or to perform difficult penances. The Greek word here is metánoia, which means literally, “a change of mind or intention.” What Jesus calls us to, then, is a new way of thinking; a reorientation of our lives. “Repent” tells us to turn away from our old lives, from our enslavement to sin. “Believe in the gospel” tells us where to turn. And what is the gospel? The good news that God’s kingdom has come among us; that God has sent His Son to deliver us from our sin and lead us into freedom as His sons and daughters. In other words, the good news is Jesus Christ Himself.
What Jesus proposes to us today is very simple. He calls us to reject our sins and turn towards Him. He calls us to enter into His kingdom, not as servile subjects, forced to obey Him against our will, but as His sons and daughters—as heirs to the throne.
Now, we have most likely already accepted Christ’s invitation. Is Jesus’ first public proclamation still relevant to us? Yes, it most certainly is. We may have responded the first time, but our response, unless we are perfect, is incomplete. Jesus calls us each and every day to repentance, to turn away from those sins that we still cling to, and to believe in Him, placing all our trust in His infinite mercy. We cannot “arrive” in the kingdom in this life—it is not a place, where we can check in and settle down. As long as we are sinners, we must follow the example of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, in this Sunday’s gospel. We must leave our nets behind and follow Jesus, continually moving forward with Him and learning from Him, so that our belief may be ever greater and our repentance ever more complete.
Andrew Sheedy – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
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