Nothing Jesus says in the rest of Marks Gospel is as important as His
words this Sunday (Mk 1: 12-15): "This is the time of fulfillment, the kingdom of God
is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news."
Not only are those His first public
words, but they also set the theme for His entire ministry, death and resurrection. Unless
we understand what they mean for Him and His original listeners, theres no sense
reading the rest of Marks Gospel, nor any of the other three Gospels.
Most religions revolve around
peoples hope in the future. We Christians, for instance, trust that well get
to heaven someday; that our actions here on earth have some effect in eternity; that we
can change the future by what we do or dont do in the present.
Sign of hope
There are no references to eternity in
the first reading (Gen 9: 8-15). Yet hope in Gods working in the future is the basis
for the covenant Yahweh makes with Noah and His family. Because the flood survivors are
willing to enter into an agreement with Yahweh, their future is much more secure; at
least, they no longer have to worry about another world-destroying flood. Every time they
see a rainbow, theyre reminded of that better future.
That religious emphasis on the future
makes Jesus proclamation about Gods kingdom unique. Hes not talking
about the future. Hes concerned only with the here and now: "the time of
"Gods kingdom" is a
familiar concept to Jesus audience. Its how they referred to Gods
working in their lives in a tangible way a way in which they could feel, sense and
benefit from Gods presence. Of course, most people employed the phrase only when
they were talking about something that was going to happen in the future, sort of parallel
to our idiom, "When my ship comes in." For instance, theyd say,
"Itll be a great day when Gods kingdom comes among us."
What makes Jesus use of the
concept different is His belief that Gods already working here among us. We
dont have to do anything to make Gods kingdom happen. Its already here
at hand, so close you can reach out and touch it. According to Jesus, the problem
isnt getting God to work; its getting people to recognize how Gods
Change in us
Thats why "repentance"
is essential. To experience God among us, we must undergo a complete change in our value
system. What we once thought important we must downgrade; what we once thought
insignificant we must emphasize. Only by stressing what others ignore will we surface how
God is currently affecting our lives. The "good news" Jesus wants His followers
to believe isnt news about the future, but about the present.
Though the second reading (I Peter 3:
18-22) presents us with a theology that Jesus is the one who, by His death and
resurrection, makes God present to us in a saving way, the historical Jesus never seems to
have recognized that dimension of His life and ministry.
In the past, Ive mentioned the
late Rudolf Bultmanns insightful statement: "After Jesuss death and
resurrection, the preacher became the preached." Those words succinctly describe the
famous Scripture scholars belief that, before Jesus death and resurrection, He
simply preached about Gods working in our lives. After His death and resurrection,
His followers started to preach about His being God working in our lives, as the author of
I Peter does. Jesus, who once delivered the message, eventually becomes the message.
Mark offers us a glimpse of the
"pre-preached" Jesus: the person who encouraged those around Him to change
enough to notice God around them. If they hadnt experienced this initial insight,
Jesus followers would never have been able to notice God in Him.