On this Word of God Sunday, what a gift to hear the first proclamation of the Gospel by the Word of God in person: “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom is near. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” These words sum up the entire preaching of Jesus.
“The time has come”, he says. The long centuries of waiting for God to come are over: over for Israel, who knew it was waiting and on whom; and over for the rest of humanity who was searching in shadows and images for the true and living God. Even today, the deepest meaning of the search of the restless hearts of men and women is for Christ. No matter how tortured or distorted the search, whether people know it or not, whether they accept it or not: it is Christ they seek. The message of Jesus, the Word of God, still holds true for every human heart, for yours and mine.
How could Jesus say that the “time had come”? Because he himself brings the Kingdom of God near. The Kingdom is in him. In Jesus, God the Father is sovereign. Jesus loves and obeys his Father with his whole being. God’s Kingdom is not about palaces, armies and territory, but about salvation, mercy, and lasting peace in the heart and mind. It is a Kingdom of man’s interiority, a dominion of spiritual integrity and union in Christ, through the Spirit and under the Father. It is a Kingdom open to all, ready for all, longing for all, for you and for me.
In today’s reading from Jonah, we hear him preach repentance to Nineveh to avoid the threat of destruction from God, and the people listen, the greatest and the least. But Jesus’s preaching far surpasses Jonah’s because he preaches repentance not to avoid threats, but to embrace the offer of the Kingdom. Repent, not merely because you will be destroyed: that is a negative reason for repentance. Rather, repent because you are being offered on a plate the Kingdom of God: that is a positive reason for repentance. Jesus is appealing in love for a repentance motivated by that love. What Jesus does share with Jonah is the urgency of the call to repentance. Precisely because the time has come, the Kingdom is here, people have to make their choice without delay. If you delay in the face of this urgency and of the imminence of the Kingdom, it is more than likely that you will not repent.
While repentance does mean to break with sin, it involves much more: it implies a change of mentality, a change in your way of life because you have embraced the Kingdom. Not sinning is good, but the Kingdom demands of us much more: a whole new mindset of obedience and love of God, with the positive attitudes and priorities entailed in that. If we turn towards Jesus, he himself will teach us what it means to live as a citizen of the Kingdom. Follow him in practice and a crown will form on your head.
In our second reading, St. Paul enjoins on the Corinthians this sense of urgency of living for the Kingdom: the time is short, this world is passing away. And don’t we know it? Doesn’t the covid pandemic leave us all wondering whether the knock will come at the door of our soul sooner than we thought? Paul calls the Corinthians to an inner detachment even from what is legitimate in their lives: those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own.
The first disciples called by Jesus grasped the radical nature of his Word. His call to them penetrated their hearts and they repented, turned their lives around, immediately. It took the form of suddenly leaving their business and their families because of the urgency of Jesus’ call. Jesus fishes them out of their habitual and relatively comfortable way of life to make them fishers of men for the Kingdom. This they will do by sharing in the power of Jesus’ Word and by proclaiming it in their turn to the world.
Finally, Jesus commands, “believe in the Gospel.” His Word confers faith and faith leads to repentance. The call to believe penetrates my heart and, in shaking me, it confers on me the trust and surrender, the deep act of personal faith, to respond. As I respond, the full message and import of the Kingdom unfolds before me and within me: I perceive its beauty and power, I am drawn by its grace and truth, I am enlivened by the personal love of Christ for me. I believe, I repent and then I understand as I follow Him. Some people want to understand and analyse and know everything about the mysteries of God before they believe. But that will never happen. Faith, trust, must come first, and then the key of understanding will be given.
The Kingdom will come in its fulness only at the Parousia. But it is already here to stay because Christ brought it and set it in motion. He chiefly uses the Church to advance the Kingdom, though not only. In certain epochs of Christian history, the Kingdom seems more apparent in the world than in others. In our own time, it is being taken by violence from outside and from inside. But Christ is still in control. His proclamation of the Gospel at the beginning of his ministry, endorsed and deepened by his death and resurrection, has sown deep in the soil of human history the mustard seed of the Kingdom. His invitation to mankind to turn their lives around and embrace that Kingdom in faith will continue until he returns in glory. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God will endure for ever.
A few questions for us all to consider.
- In what ways does my lifestyle demonstrate that I truly believe in Jesus Christ? What are the fruits of repentance in my life?
- Do I have a sense of urgency in following Christ or am I still enmeshed in my nets?
- What if your time comes now? What would you have wished you had done for Christ that you have not yet done?