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January 26, 2003

Repent and Believe in the Gospel

(Mark 1: 14-20)

Last weekend, I was in Washington, D.C. and spoke in front of the U.S. Capitol at the national march against the war to over 200,000 people. It was very exciting. I felt like Jonah in the first reading, calling the people of Ninevah to repent, saying that we should repent of the sin of war, welcome God's kindom of peace and love our enemies, as Jesus says, not bomb them. I hope and pray that like the people of Ninevah, we will all turn from our evil war making ways and seek the peace of God.

Today, we hear the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, how Jesus picks up where John the Baptist left off, after John's arrest, so I'd like to look at what Jesus says and does and see what it means for us today.

We're told that Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming "the Gospel of God." We're so use to that word "Gospel," that it's lost its original meaning. But in those days, when the Roman empire went off and conquered another land in the name of their god Caesar, and killed all the men, raped all the women, and destroyed all the homes, the soldiers would come back parading through the land announcing "the Gospel according to Caesar," the Good News of the latest victory of Caesar, that another land has been conquered for their god Caesar, and that Caesar's enemies have been killed.

Here Mark writes that Jesus dares announce that "the Gospel of God," in direct violation of the Roman empire, in direct contrast to the Gospel of Caesar. Mark says that the story of this itinerant preacher, this peaceful revolutionary, executed by the Roman soldiers, is the real Gospel, the real good news, the real victory. That would have been shocking to the original hearers of the Gospel.

Then, Mark explains that Jesus has a basic keynote speech with four specific messages: "The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel."

The New Testament, as you know was written in Greek, and it has two words for time, chronos, meaning "chronological time," and kairos, meaning, "the urgent, present moment, the time beyond time, the time of fulfillment, the end time, the time of God." Christ always speaks of the kairos moment. "The Kairos is here," he announces. We are no longer living in chronos time but kairos time, the time of God. It's very dramatic.

Then, he says, "The kingdom of God is at hand." Throughout the Gospels, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God. I think we can never think and talk about it enough. What does the kingdom of God mean for you? How do you imagine God's kingdom? What do you think it will be like? Do you want the kingdom of God to be at hand? For Jesus, the kingdom of God means God is at the center of life, which means we are filled with God's love, that we walk in the light and love of God, which means we love everyone, we serve everyone, forgive everyone, live in perfect nonviolence and peace with everyone. And this nonviolent kingdom is here, right now this very minute. It's as close as your hand, which you use to reach out to serve others, to greet others with the sign of peace, to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

Then, Jesus starts saying exactly what John the Baptist commanded, "Repent." Repentance comes from the Greek word "Metanoia," which means, "turn around, stop what you are doing and go in the other direction, change the direction of your life." Jonah called the people of Ninevah to repent and they did. Jesus calls us to repent, too, to stop rejecting God, to stop hurting one another, to stop supporting the Gospel of empire, to stop supporting the war making culture and to welcome God's kingdom of love.

Finally, Jesus says, "Believe in the Gospel." We are supposed to believe what Jesus says. I think part of us believes the Gospel and part of us does not believe the Gospel. Part of us does not trust God, does not want to forgive those who hurt us or love our enemies or take up the cross of resistance to injustice, but Jesus wants us to believe it completely, to make it come true, to dedicate our lives to his Gospel.

Then Jesus calls the fishermen, saying, "Come after me and I will make you fishers of men and women." They drop everything, leave their work, and follow him.

Today, Jesus says to us: "Drop everything and come after me. Walk in my footsteps and welcome God's kingdom of love on earth."

So I invite you to reflect on the kingdom of God, the command to repent and the call to discipleship, to ask yourselves, "When did Jesus call me to follow him? When did I drop my nets, leave my boat and start following Jesus? What do I like about Jesus that enables me to leave everything and follow him? How can I repent and take another step forward on my discipleship journey to the nonviolent Christ?"

I hope and pray that we will all repent from the social sin of violence and destruction like the people of Ninevah, that we will drop everything to follow Jesus like those fishermen and welcome God's kingdom of nonviolent love in our hearts and in our world.

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