Lent - First Sunday - 2018 G enesis 9: 8-15 1 Peter 3: 18-22 Mark 1 : 12-15.
This Gospel reading is so important. It not only sets the theme for Mark's entire gospel; it also gives us an insight into the historical Jesus' ministry.
Now I ( and perhaps most of you) was taught that the reason, the Son of God, came into human history was to show us the way to heaven. Well this passage points us in a somewhat different direction.
There is some unease with this 'get-us-into- heaven' theology. And this is seen in Mark's chapter 10 where he meets the rich young man who asks, What must I do to inherit eternal life?'. he is asking what would get him into heaven. And when Jesus responds that he keep the commandments, the young man gives the assurance that he has kept them from his youth. And we presume he is going to reach heaven. However Jesus says there is something lacking. And that 'something' has nothing to do with eternal happiness. Jesus verifies that when Jesus observes, 'How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God'. For Jesus, entering heaven and entering the Kingdom of God are two different states of life.
That is why this Gospel reading is so important. It not only contains the first words of Jesus' ministry - it is indicative that these words are part of his every sermon and instruction - this is at the centre of his whole mission and message.
The Kingdom of God/ heaven does not refer to the place we plan to inhabit after our physical death. It refers to God working effectively in our lives, here and now. That is the 'good news' Jesus spends his ministry proclaiming. It is the message for which he was eventually crucified. It is the reason he shuttered up his carpenter shop and went from village to village, synagogue to synagogue encouraging people to experience long before they leave this life.
There is a condition - just one. To experience God's kingdom they/ we must repent..
The Greek word here is 'metanoia'. It implies more than just saying, I am sorry I did it; and I won't do it anymore'. In this context, repent refers to a total change in one's value system - a 180 degree shift in what one holds to be important in one's life. mark will spend so much of the rest of his gospel informing us of what is radically involved in that shift.
It now makes sense why the rich young man walked away from Jesus' invitation. repentance for him entailed putting people first instead of making money. he could not do that then. maybe he did later. We don't know. But in that here and now of his life he could not change his life style.
The responsibility to repent is the challenge for each of us and for every Christian community. It is not about reading another line of Scripture, or saying another rosary, or participating in another Eucharist (important as those things are) It is about first changing our value system to mirror Jesus' value system. That is the meaning of repentance. What Jesus thought important, we must think important; What he put on the periphery of his life, we must put on the periphery of our lives. There is no other way to experience the presence of God's kingdom in and around us.
As I said, the remainder of mark's gospel demonstrates Jesus' value system it outlines how we are to repent. Each of us and each Christian community must best discern how that is to be put into practice. What ever is decided must involve/ show that...
People are more important than rules and regulations.
One's wealth and talents are to be used to primarily help others.
Spend less time worrying about getting into heaven, and more time and energy concentrating what what is necessary to witness to God's presence in the here and now.
It is then we will/ can eventually become the other Christs, Jesus intended us to become.