Well, let’s look at our Gospel, from Mark chapter one. It begins “After John had been arrested…” Literally it says, “after John had been handed over.” That is the same thing that is going to happen to Jesus later in the Gospel. He is going to be “handed over” to evil men representing the powers of this world, the powers of darkness. Very early in the Gospel St. Mark sets a somber tone.
Mark’s Gospel is called the “Sorrowful Gospel” The shadow of the Cross is cast very clearly over this Gospel. In Mark’s Gospel you cannot understand Jesus until you get to the Cross. Unless you accept the Cross as part of following Jesus you cannot follow Him.
Scholars think that Mark is writing for a community that is being persecuted, that is suffering. So Mark reminds them that taking up your cross daily is an integral part of following Jesus. The Cross is always present in Mark’s Gospel. And that is a challenge to us.
Anyway, in the passage Jesus begins His preaching mission, proclaiming the gospel, or literally “good news” of God. Then St Mark succinctly sums up Jesus’ preaching. I like that because I like things that are direct, to the point, succinct. No beating around the bush. Jesus gives it to us straight: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is here! God’s Kingdom is now breaking into history in a whole new and unique way in Jesus Christ. This is something NEW, something DIFFERENT, something UNEXPECTED. The Kingdom of God is at hand, it is right here.
So, what should we do? Jesus has a short, to the point answer for that too. “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” I really like that sentence, not only because it is concise and succinct, but it is also very positive.
Anyone here ever feel guilty? Of course. You did something stupid, and later you realize how many people you disappointed and hurt, and you feel like a jerk. You feel guilty.
Well, that is NOT what Jesus is calling us to. No where in the Gospel does Jesus ever urge or tell us to feel guilty. Guilt only keeps us chained to the past. Guilt feeds on replaying old tapes. Guilt focusses us backwards.
That is NOT what Jesus calls us to. Rather, Jesus tells us “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Repentance is different than guilt. Repentance is about changing and moving forward. Repentance is a change of mind and heart. Jesus tells us “Repent, and believe in the gospel,” the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Interestingly we have a case of repentance in our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jonah. Jonah starts preaching the impending doom of the City of Nineveh. And what happens? The people and the king repent. “the people of Nineveh believed God, they proclaimed a fast and all of them great and small, put on sack cloth.” They changed their hearts and they changed their ways. They turned from sin and moved forward in a new direction. They repented.
And what happened? “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil ways, he (that is, GOD) repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them, he did not carry it out.” God repents! God changes what God was going to do. God repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them.
Do you think God was sad over that? Was God disappointed? Was God really looking for an opportunity to sorely smack some sinners, and so was disappointed when they changed their evil ways and He couldn’t smack them? NO!
God was delighted to repent of the evil he had threatened to do to them. God was overjoyed! Repentance is not a sad and onerous thing, because repentance is always about turning to more life, turning from the works of death which is sin, and embracing instead the works of life, the Gospel which is GOOD news.
Jesus does not call us to feelings of guilt. Jesus does call us to repentance, to moving forward in the way of life, and to believe in the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Brothers and Sisters: The Gospel is not easy. It takes work and sacrifice. We must embrace the crosses in our lives. But it is still Good News, the good news of life, of the triumph of love over hate, of life over death, of God over sin.
Follow Jesus’ call: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” AMEN.