The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 24, 2021
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and all the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvellous works; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 7:39-31
This is the year for the Gospel of Mark. The Eucharistic lectionary does not, however, have us plough through the text from beginning to end. That is the work of the Daily Office lectionary. At the Eucharist on Sunday, we work through our texts thematically, especially as they relate to the calendar of the Church year.
Although it is now almost two months into the new liturgical year, it was only two weeks ago, on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, that we heard the energetic and impelling opening of Mark’s gospel: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God,” in which we were introduced to John the Baptist and witnessed Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the moment when God declared Jesus “my beloved son” with whom “I am well pleased.” The energy and drive that characterises the Gospel of Mark takes control and “immediately” (Mark’s favourite adverbial conjunction) the Spirit drives Jesus “into the wilderness” where he was tempted by Satan. We will, however, have to wait for the first Sunday in Lent to examine this story since, as I have remarked, our lectionary breaks up our text thematically.
Today, remarkably only sixteen lines into Mark’s concise and impelling text, we receive an update about what has become of John the Baptist. We also pick up Jesus’ story immediately after the temptation, seeing how, following that wilderness experience, he has gotten right down to work:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” This is the news for which we were prepared in Advent. We have been watching and waiting for the signs that have been promised, for the coming Messiah who will inaugurate the Kingdom of God and call us all more deeply into the life of God, into the movement of this new order. The first sign came at Jesus’ baptism with the descent of the Spirit and God’s words, harkening back to Isaiah, affirming Jesus’ status as the servant who will suffer and yet be vindicated. Now we see Jesus sharing this message, calling us to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”
So what, exactly, does that mean? What does he mean by repent? What does he mean by “believe in the Gospel?” We already heard about repentance in the short time we have engaged with Mark’s story. Just a few lines earlier we learnt that John himself was “preaching a baptism of repentance.” We have also learnt that this message had been compelling to those who heard, as many of the people of Judea and Jerusalem had come to John to be baptised. As many of you already know, the word the Revised Standard Version renders into English as “repent” stands in for the Greek word “metanoia,” which is, basically, untranslatable. It literally means “beyond the mind” or “beyond thought,” but in both pagan and Jewish sources is used to denote a kind of profound change of heart, an inner transformation that moves us beyond ourselves as we are now. Importantly, it does not generally encompass the sense of sorrow or regret that is inherent in our conception of repentance. We are not, therefore, required to come to Jesus, to the God of Israel at the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, only out of regret for the sins we have committed. Jesus, by calling us to “metanoia” is, in a very positive sense, calling us into a new life in which we are transformed, become more than ourselves. In calling us also to “believe in the Gospel,” we are meant to understand that this transformation in essence is into a life organised by the principal of “trust in the Good News”—another way to render “believe in the Gospel”—that God has inaugurated the Kingdom of God.
And immediately we see Jesus’ preaching in practice: a first practical expression of his ministry, calling others into his work:
And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
In his call, through the words he chooses, Jesus is inviting Peter and Andrew to transform their lives. He observes what they are doing. He sees them at their work as fishermen and he cleverly shows them a way to look beyond being fishermen and to see their work in the context of a larger project. In a way, Jesus encourages them in that moment to become meta-fishermen. As fishers of men in the Kingdom of God, they no longer merely cast their nets from the boat to bring in a haul of fish, but now they are invited to cast those nets in a larger sense by sharing the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and thereby catch up people.
They, along with “James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets,” whom Jesus saw next, are made new, made more than themselves when they leave their old lives behind and take up the cause of spreading Jesus’ story, Jesus’ message. They become the first links in the chain of transformation that extends all the way from these first apostles through the early saints and martyrs and the middle ages to the English Reformation and down to us. Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew is the same call that is issued to us and which we have accepted.
God acted, sent Jesus to come among us. God announced to the world who Jesus was and what he would bring. Jesus called others into his life and work, a life of transformation and works of love. They in turn continued to preach faith in the works of the Kingdom of God and the transformation by which we become more than ourselves, move beyond the self, and are made integral participants in God’s work and members of the Body of Christ.
At a moment when all our lives have been turned upside down, so many have lost their livelihoods, perhaps become ill ourselves or lost loved ones in a deadly pandemic, and all we want is for things to get back to normal, we hear a story about Jesus inviting people to quit their jobs, change their entire lives from one moment to the next, embark upon the work of transformation and embrace the unknown, trusting in the promise of God that the world would be changed and that God’s priorities would triumph. It is a hard message when so much change has been thrust upon us and we seek comfort and the return to the way things were. Accepting Jesus’ invitation into transformation, seeing where we are as an opportunity, allows us to imagine a future that is better than the past, in the midst of pain and suffering allows us to look ahead with a sense of joy and expectation that what lies ahead will not be more of the same, but will truly reflect the world as God intends. Peter and Andrew left their nets and found life. I pray that we face the future with a sense of openness to God’s call, to deeper transformation, to truly aligning our wills with God’s will for us.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
23 January 2021
© 2021 Andrew Charles Blume