January 21, 2018
Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Today, we turn to the Gospel of Mark, which accompanies us in this liturgical year and we begin Jesus’ public way of life. We follow Him in His first steps, we listen to His primary, fundamental, words.
After the baptism and the temptations, Jesus goes to Galilee and there begins to announce the coming of the Kingdom. He does it with the weighty wording: “this is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand; be converted and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).
What does “the time of fulfillment” mean? Whoever is awaiting something, something important, basic and vital can understand this expression. His or her life is a reaching forward to an event, and then, suddenly, the event happens. It’s no longer the time of waiting, but of fulfillment. There is no further need to add anything to what already is. That is what “the time is fulfilled” means. And yet, those times were not better than others. The Gospel passage begins with the news of John’s arrest, an injustice like that of any other time. The fullness of time does not come from favorable external causes: the time of fulfillment is also when everything continues to speak of limits and weakness, injustice and sin.
Why then is time fulfilled, which was the awaited event that now has happened? Jesus Himself says it, immediately after: the time is fulfilled because the kingdom of God is at hand. There is something new in history that makes us say that God Himself is near. Time is fulfilled because time awaited Him.
And this involved consequences, and it’s very important to see them. Since the time is fulfilled, since the Kingdom of God is at hand, then “be converted and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).
The literal meaning of “be converted” is to have “a change of mind,” to begin to think in a different new way, to no longer think as before, when you were still expecting. Think, now, as one who has before one’s very eyes the Kingdom that is here. It is not a moral conversion, it is not about changing attitudes, about bad behavior: the first conversion experience is a conversion of thought, and it just asks one to become aware, to pay attention to the new thing that is present. Converting oneself means to believe in the Gospel, in the good news of the presence of God in history, in this history, as it is.
Immediately after, Mark gives an example of this new life, of this conversion, and it’s the call of the first disciples: in their life, time is fulfilled, and they are converted, they enter a new logic about life. These two sets of brothers hear a call and set out to follow the Master: they are no longer the ones to decide their life, to determine their path, but set off to follow Another, and they let Him lead the challenge. They saw in Jesus the Kingdom that is at hand, and they changed their life.
For this to happen, they must first “leave”: it’s an essential verb, that occurs two times (Mk 1:18,20). Leave work, family, previous life, to be able to receive. To leave is to make room, within the self, so that the new can emerge.
It’s not obvious. The Gospel will also give us the example of those who are called to leave but cannot do it because the goods to which his heart is tied are too much, like the call of the rich young man (Mk 10:17-22).
And this makes us think that leaving is also grace, a gift: we cannot get there with our efforts, but by a new view, a gift of God, by which we intuit in the depth of the heart that indeed the time is fulfilled, for us, here.
Leaving is the only thing that Jesus asks. It is interesting that, in reality, in today’s Gospel, it is not Jesus asking it. It is a demand of the heart that is born in us when we understand that the gift is excellent and that we need only to make room for it. And all that belongs to the time of waiting in the time of waiting is now an obstruction.
To the first disciples that leave, Jesus makes a promise: “I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17). What does it mean to be fishers of men? The expression is quite original, and there are many and different interpretations.
It seems relevant to emphasize, among all, a perspective that is open, and is always opening: the disciples will no longer fish for fish, but will concern themselves with the life and salvation of humans, of the world.
The Lord starts with what we already are, with what we already know to do, but then He expands our life on much broader horizons than our small human projects may be.
Setting out to follow is to enter this new time that enlarges space.