Mark 1:15
“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
I made a mistake last weekend. Actually I made a couple of them. But the one that I am thinking of is that I said we were going to read from John’s Gospel again this weekend. I was wrong. We begin in a serious way the process of readings from the gospel of Mark for this year.
So I think it is important that we begin with the first public words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. What is so important about this “time of fulfillment”? Put it simply, it is a crossroads of time. All that God had been doing to prepare the Jewish people and the world for the coming of Christ was now ready. So here already, Jesus is making the declaration of who he is, and what he is about to do, and what we are called to do as well.
“The kingdom of God is at hand.” This is a perfect example of a loaded statement. Here the God of the universe is saying to the world around him that his kingdom has come. Interestingly, the kingdom of God as a phrase was never mentioned in the Old Testament. It is only with the coming of Jesus that the kingdom of God was revealed before the world.
Israel understood that there was a kingdom of God. Isaiah spoke of the reign of the Lord. This language prepared Israel and all who knew of God’s own self-revelation for the kingdom of God to come. But what is so special about the line being used by Jesus?
Jesus is saying – now – in the very first chapter of Mark that he is King, because this kingdom resides in him. And he was, in the very first words he spoke, putting the demons on notice: the rule of sin and death was about to die!
By his saying that the kingdom of God is at hand, he was saying that the kingdom was present in him but that it was not fully revealed in that moment. I think it would be best to describe that as the time of a predawn morning. You look and see the sky changing color. It is a bright orange, and yet the sun has not yet risen. Light and form have returned to the world and the power of darkness is overcome. But yet the sun has not risen. I think we have been in that predawn time from the time of Jesus until now.
But the kingdom of God is at hand. The powers of death and sin have been broken. Something new has come into the world. And God has called us to respond because of that. “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Our response has eternal consequences.
We are not very far from Lent. We know this is a season where we are called to repentance. But if we only stop there, we are forgetting these first words of Jesus: we must “believe in the gospel”. By saying that, I am not telling you anything you have not heard. So, what does it mean to believe in the gospel?
I think it means much more than just saying that we believe in Jesus. Or that we accept that he is God. The demons believe this and they tremble with fear. But the demons cannot repent. Unfortunately, I believe there are many humans who cannot repent either.
I did a search on the two words repent and believe for synonyms. One set of synonyms would be “ask for forgiveness, and trust”: “repent and believe”.
When we look at the world around us we are often confused by different voices who want to tell us how we ought to live. Jesus gives us the only way that leads to joy. We may think the happiness of this world is sufficient, but only repenting and believing, asking for forgiveness and trusting in a merciful God can give us the joy that will sustain us into eternity, into the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is at hand. Dawn is breaking into the world. Darkness is being chased away. Jesus, the son of justice, has been and is breaking into the world to establish his kingdom. Repent and believe this great news. Seek his mercy, ask for his forgiveness, and trust that it is given to us all.
As Saint Faustina showed us through her revelations of the Divine Mercy, our crying needs to be “Jesus, I trust in you!” Amen.