From St. Mark’s Gospel appointed to be read this Sunday, we hear the following summary statement: “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God. `This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”
This statement by the evangelist includes a most simple, clear, complete presentation of the basic gospel of Christ. Note at the outset that St. Mark has Jesus’ ministry begin only after John the Baptizer was arrested. It was the kairos, the critical and opportune time for Jesus to act. He acts by preaching the gospel. St. Mark assures us that Jesus begin his ministry in his home territory of Galilee, where he would no doubt have relatives and friends, and where he “knows the territory.” Also note that the phrase “proclaiming the gospel of God” is not usual; it occurs here and once in the wirings of the Apostle Paul (Romans 15:16), but otherwise, is not found in the New Testament. The phrase usually found is “the gospel of Christ,” meaning not what Jesus taught, but rather the story of what God has done for all of humankind in Jesus Christ, and especially through the Incarnation, death, and Resurrection of Christ. “The Gospel of God” brings out the origin of this good news for humankind: it comes from the unknown God, and has as its purpose the plan to bring all of humankind into a full and eternal union with God. Ultimately, the gospel is about God, although as we can see in the New Testament, no writer presumes to speak directly on who or what God is. Symbolic language is employed, and actions, to display the character of the God of the gospel. As an example of symbolic language, call to mind the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the evangelist Luke portrays God as the all-loving, merciful Father, who never gives up on either of his sons. As an example of symbolic action displaying the character of God, the outstanding case by far is the suffering and death of Jesus out of love for his fellow human beings, to bring us to God. In his suffering and death, fulfilled in the Resurrection, Christ demonstrates at once the infinite and unfailing love of God with mercy and patience for us sinners, and the power of God’s Life over sin and even death itself. In the gospel, God triumphs in human beings.
Next we briefly consider the content of Jesus’ initial proclamation, worth our time, for it contains a complete gospel in miniature: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” If understood properly, that is sufficient to communicate the message of Jesus Christ. Nothing elaborate, no gnostic speculation on God, no rigid “do’s and don’ts,” no ideological nonsense. Just KISS: “Keep it simple, stupid.” What follows is not, I hope, simplistic, but simple clear, true, and to the point.
“This is the time of fulfillment” is literally, from the Greek, “The Kairos is fulfilled.” Kairosmeans the critical time, the time for decision and action. “NOW is the right Moment!” The Apostle Paul refers to the same insight frequently: “But NOW is Christ risen…” By genuine, simple faith, one lives NOW, in the now, in this precise moment God gives you. God is not in the past, or in some imagined future. Rather, God is always now and only now--the eternal Now. And the Now of God is the moment for human beings to be attentive, to make critical choices, to act on them. In other terms: the law and the prophets--including John the Baptizer--were all preparation. NOW God is acting in the most decisive, complete way in and through Jesus.
“The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Indeed it is, for “Jesus is himself the Kingdom,” as the early church Father Origen wrote. In the person, deeds, and words of Jesus Christ, God is fully present, acting, accomplishing His will for each and for all. God’s Kingdom is not some earthly ordering of affairs, not a place to go, not a political or imagined “kingdom” at all--and not the institutional Church, either. Rather, God’s Kingdom is God’s Presence in Christ, which is liberating, forgiving, healing, triumphing over evil, and above all, “reconciling the world to Himself.” In the Kingdom, God and man are made one here and now, and forever. God’s Kingdom is light, love, joy, and peace, for all who enter. Want to see the Kingdom? See, love, obey Christ. And how does one enter the Kingdom?”
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” “Repent” translates the Greek word metanoeite, which literally means, “change your mind, your heart,” or in plain language, “get a new attitude.” But even better: the Greek for “repent” translates the Hebrew word meaning “Turn around!” It is that simple and direct. “Stop going in the direction you are heading, turn back towards God, and enter the Kingdom of his Presence, for it is all good, true, beautiful.” “Believe in the gospel” does not mean “believe the writings of a book,” but far more simply and profoundly: “Trust this message of life, true life!” This means, in effect, “rejoice and be glad,” “enter into God with rejoicing,” and “cast all your cares on God, who cares for you” (I Peter). This message is not negative at all, and should not be cheapened into such a message as “Give up candy and sex, and you will enter the kingdom of God,” or any such thing. The words of Jesus are completely positive, uplifting, life-affirming. Christ is utterly convinced that God is all good, and so entering into His Presence brings one happiness, fulfillment, peace, energy, and a joy that nothing in the world could destroy. “Rejoice, dear friends, for God’s love and life are NOW.”