In the Gospel today we hear the very first words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. These are words upon which the trajectory of humanity changed unalterably and forever. “Repent believe in the good news”. Understanding the Gospel today is possible by looking at four things: belief, metanoia, calling, and relationship.
The word used in the Greek for believe is an active verb not a noun – not just a condition of intellectual ascent but of something done. In 1859, Charles Blondin, walked an 1100 ft long tightrope over the Niagra River 160 feet above falls. Not once, but several times - blindfolded, on stilts, pushing a wheelbarrow. In 1860 the Duke of Newcastle watched Blondin walk the tightrope with a wheelbarrow filled with a sack of potatoes. Blondin asked the Duke if the Duke thought that Blondin could cross with a person in the wheelbarrow. The Duke responded with a hearty yes but refused the offer to get in and cross with Blondin. When Blondin asked the gathered crowd if there was anyone who would get in the wheelbarrow, no one answered.
Eventually elderly woman ambled out of the crowd and was helped into the wheelbarrow – it was Blondin’s mother – the only one willing to put their life in Blondin’s hands. I think this is the best example of the Greek word for believe in today’s Gospel; lively faith as action – faith as something done. It was Blondin’s mother who helped everyone see the magnitude of her son’s actions. How very much like our Mother Mary who helps us all to a place of deeper understanding and faith regarding the work of her Son, Jesus. Mary’s belief was cause for a life profoundly altered by complete trust in the work of her Son. Her vision was changed, and she looked upon everything through the lens of her Son’s work to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ command today, is answered by repentance – metanoia – which can translate from the Greek several ways – my favorite: a change of mind – new way of seeing. I was looking the other day at pictures of flowers taken using ultraviolet light. It is a bee’s eye view of the flower. Bees see deeply into the violet spectrum– as much as we see in the other direction – into the red. Bee’s color vision sort of stops at Orange but sees deeply into the violet. The flower looks entirely different in that light. And for the bee, this gives the flower a different reality –a different functionality and purpose – different meaning.
This is the call on us – to repent – instead of looking at the world and others as a function of our own need, we are called to look at the world bathed in the light of Christ and to see everything reflected in that light. To be transformed and see using that wavelength.
This is the message in our second reading. For the world in its present form is passing away. It must pass away for the fullness of the kingdom to be established. Paul’s words to the Corinthians were not easy to take, but they were part of the new reality for those Jesus called to live the Gospel.
We understand the condition of "being called" from the Lectionary Reading for the Second and today, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our readings last week were modified by the close of the Diocesan Bicentennial Celebration. But the first reading and the Gospel were about encounters with God. Samuel hears the call of God in the temple and with Eli’s help, is able to recognize that call and answer. It changed his life: The reading goes on to say: “Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.”
In our first reading today, we have Jonah’s counterpoint to Eli. God called Jonah to travel 1000 km to the Assyrian kingdom capitol – remember the Assyrians had wiped out Israel’s Northern kingdom. Jonah would probably rather see them destroyed than see them repent. So, instead, Jonah heads 3000 km by boat in the opposite direction. But Jonah eventually does the Lord’s bidding, and, to the people of Nineveh, it is transformational.
In the Gospel last week we see John the Baptist announcing the presence of the Lamb of God and Andrew – one of Johns Disciples at that point – leaves John to follow Jesus. Andrew tells his brother Simon about this and brings Simon to meet Jesus. Jesus renames Simon as Peter and begins a transforming work in him. Encountering Jesus is transformational.
Today, we hear the very first words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel – repent, believe in the good news. His very next words place a call on the lives of Andrew and Simon Peter and on a second pair of brothers, James and John. Perhaps James and John had heard Jesus teaching – or had met Jesus like Andrew and Simon Peter.
But why start with two sets of brothers? This is how we understand relationship! Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. And in Proverbs 18:24 “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
Well, my memories of growing up with my younger brother Mike are punctuated by our constant competition – of my mother hitting us with the broom as we spilled out the front door in a wrestling match that would take us to the brink of physical exhaustion – neither of us yielding. Yet today he is my hero because of the way he has handled loss and adversity. Anyone who has siblings understands the saying “I always fight with my brother. This is our way of saying “I love you”. Though we are not always eye to eye, we are heart to heart. The Greek philosopher Antisthenes, a student of Socrates, put it this way “When brothers agree, no fortress is so strong as their common life.”
These brothers were probably astonished to be called and were so compelled by that call that they left their Father Zebedee, their business, their families. But they undoubtedly took strength from doing this together. We know that Peter's mother-in-law was healed by Jesus at their home in Capernaum. Although we don’t know about Andrew or James or John’s marriage situation, it is likely that they were married men. They certainly came to understand in a very real and deeply sacrificial way Paul’s words in our second reading, “From now on, let those having wives act as not having them”.
Pope Francis recently asked “are we fishers of men or are we keepers of an aquarium where the fish are dying?” Are we afraid to take the risk of saying a full and enthusiastic yes. Jesus took the Apostles far beyond anything they imagined. Yes, places far from family, security, safety as the world offers. But they were safely in the hands of the Creator. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “– everything is rubbish compared to the surpassing knowledge of God.” Right now, many of us are distracted thinking about how we’re going to fix the boat or mend the nets or when we can next fish and provide for the family.
But Jesus is here now. This in no accident that you are here with Him, no coincidence. You may have seen and heard him before. But, right now Jesus has just walked onto the shores of your life and called you by name. He wants you to look upon him, hear his words, and be transformed. He is the light by which we see the kingdom. He is not a night light or a decorative table lamp, He is the sun rising on a new Vista. Today is about opening your heart with a willingness to be changed, to continue the transformation. Will you answer like Jonah or like Eli? As you approach the table of the Eucharist today remember your yes and amen are unique and vital – you reflect the light of Christ onto the Kingdom of God in a way that no one else can.