Some are surprised to hear Jesus begin his ministry with an announcement of a new kingdom. His first public words sound almost like a political announcement: “The kingdom of God has come near!” Is Jesus launching a new political movement, beginning a new social system?
Mark begins the story of Jesus abruptly. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River and is briefly tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Then John, the baptizer, is arrested. With his arrest, Jesus goes public.
Mark summarizes the whole message of Jesus in these few words attributed to Jesus. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” That is what it was all about for Mark. Jesus inaugurated a new time and a new kingdom. Its beginning is “good news” a welcomed announcement for which humanity has long been waiting.
Its beginning called for human action. If the kingdom of God has come near, then we humans are to repent and believe. Repent, in the sense of turning away from all other kingdoms that have imprisoned us. Believe, in the sense of trusting the promise of the presence and power of this new reign of God.
But it is not an entirely new kingdom Jesus announced. That is why it could be recognized as a bold headline of good news. The Hebrew and Jewish people had longed for that day when their king would rule directly and fully in this world. They prayed for the coming of that kingdom. They worked to make their nation righteous so that God would allow them to become a part of the divine rule.
Jesus dared to say that the longed-for moment had arrived. The time is fulfilled. God reigns now, as Israel for centuries had hoped and prayed.
Jesus’ bold announcement is a political declaration of sorts. It declares that all human kingdoms are now subservient to one divine kingdom. All the human schemes and systems stand answerable to one Lord and one rule: Roman rule and Jewish regime, Greek city-states and oriental monarchies, oligarchs, and empires. They are judged by one authority and by one power. God’s kingdom is present.
That is still good news. Our quest for some authority in our lives is answered. Our search for some master to guide us has ended. There is after all a kingdom to which we can submit ourselves without reserve. Unlike our human systems, we need not worry that this kingdom will fall. Unlike our human schemes, we need not fret that this one will fail, for this is the kingdom of God.
And with the coming of the rule of God, the pitch for the orchestra of humanity is sounded. Like the concertmaster sounding the pitch for all instruments of the orchestra, in Christ, God sounds the pitch to which humanity may tune its instruments. The pitch of the kingdom is clear and simple, the pitch is love, peace, and justice. This pitch will be the guide and frame of the political system, of distribution of goods and services, checks and balances, and of the legislative scheme.
But as abruptly as Mark began the story, it goes on. Jesus announced the advent of their new kingdom and then proceeded to call his first disciples/followers. Simon and Andrew were about their daily labor, casting their fishing nets into the sea, hoping their catch would make them a living. Jesus issued a simple and provocative invitation: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
The Old Testament lesson from the book of Jonah is also a story about “calling,” but with ironic twists. Jonah is called to proclaim a message to people he doesn’t like — a message he hopes will not be accepted. After trying unsuccessfully to avoid his calling, he finally arrives in Nineveh and delivers the shortest sermon in the Bible, an eight-word threat of destruction. “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed. “
To his dismay the sermon is effective. The book of Jonah ends as God makes clear to Jonah that mercy is for everyone who repents.
Jonah’s call included the message he was to deliver, but in today’s gospel, the four fishermen are called with no further instructions whatsoever. They are called to an uncertain future and would surely have been scared out of their wits had they known what lay in store for them.
The kingdom casts its net and draws in others. These others were told that henceforth they would be fishing for people. Simon, Andrew and so James and John began to tune their instruments. Following Jesus, they began to learn what it meant to live in a kingdom whose rule is love, service, and justice, not might, greed, and power.
They began to learn that in this kingdom you tune your instruments to play in an orchestra with others. The orchestra plays the melody of love, justice, and peace, so that others may hear and harmonize. This kingdom, then, is no private matter. It is not a simple matter of inner life, the life lived in solitude. Rather, the kingdom of God is like a mighty orchestra playing together to fill the world with strains of new music.
God keeps coming among us and surrounding us with the pitch of the kingdom, the gospel of love, peace, and justice. God keeps inviting us to abide in that which gives love and power. God daily keeps inviting us to repent and to believe the good news of the kingdom. Around Christ and in this new kingdom we form our orchestra. Each of us plays an instrument essential to the total ensemble, with the full orchestra, the sound of the gospel will carry throughout this world.
Hear then, the pitch of this kingdom. Hear the note of love, peace, and justice. Let that pitch tune your lives. And come join the orchestra so that the pitch of the kingdom will sound through this community and around the world. Let the true reign of peace, justice and love reign all over the world.
God bless us all.
Gospel reflection of Prof. Mariefe Revollido, Aglipay Central Theological Seminary (ACTS) for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jon 3:1-5, 10 Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Cor 7:29-31 Mk 1:14-20