The common thread that runs through the first reading and Gospel of today is the invitation, or call that is made, and the response to it. If, in the first reading, Jonah calls the people of Nineveh to repentance and they respond, in the Gospel of today, Jesus calls the first disciples to be fishers of men and women, and they respond. A positive note is thus struck. There is an adequate response made to both calls.
Jonah is invited by God, in the first reading of today, with three imperatives. He is called to Arise, to Go, and to Proclaim the message that God himself will give. He responds here with alacrity, following God’s invitation perfectly. He arose, went, and proclaimed. Though the content of his proclamation is not specified by God, Jonah proclaims a call to repentance, an overturning, a complete reversal of the world. The response of all people, from the greatest to the least, was to listen to the proclamation and to act on it immediately. It is not the repentance of the Ninevites that results in God’s repentance, since human action can never dictate divine response. It is God’s graciousness and long standing patience that leads to God’s repentance. God does what he does freely.
That this is the case is made more than amply clear in the preaching of Jesus, when he “came into Galilee”. However, even before Jesus can utter the first words in his Gospel, Mark gives us four pointers or indicators. The reason why he does this is because the message that Jesus will proclaim and the words that he will speak are revolutionary and novel. The words of Jesus will result in waking the listener from his/her sleep and in turning the world of the listener upside down. This first of these four indicators is a Time indicator: “After John had been arrested”. The reason for the mention of the arrest of John the Baptist here, and just before the proclamation of Jesus, is to effectively remove John from the scene and to prepare the reader for both the departure of John and the arrival of Jesus. This is because with Jesus, a new time has come, a new message is brought and a new kingdom is inaugurated. The old time of John is now over. The second indicator is a Place indicator: “Jesus came into Galilee” which, in Mark, is the place where Jesus is at home. It is a place of acceptance and proclamation and the place where miracles are worked. In Mark, Jesus proclaims the kingdom and works all his miracles only in Galilee and never in Jerusalem. Even when he is misunderstood in Galilee, the ones who cause the trouble come from Jerusalem. The third indicator is a Form indicator: “Proclaiming” which indicates, as in the case of Jonah, the crying out of an urgent message. The proclamation does not explicate or give details, it simply invites, beckons, and challenges the listener to hear and respond. The fourth and final indicator is a Content indicator: “The good news of God” which means that it is about both the good news about God, and the good news that God has authorized Jesus to proclaim. It is only after this elaborate preparation that Jesus speaks. This proclamation of Jesus may be summed up as: “The kingdom of God is here. Repent”. The placement of the words is extremely important if one is to understand fully the implications of this radical proclamation. In this proclamation, the indicative is before the imperative or, in other words, because the kingdom has come, people are called to repentance. The proclamation does not state that the kingdom will come only if people repent or, that people must repent first for the kingdom to come. Rather, God has taken the initiative, the first step, in the movement towards humans and they have only to respond. No human being can do anything, or need do anything, to bring about the kingdom. It is given gratis, as a free gift to anyone who is open to receive it.
What does this mean in practice? On the lips of Jesus, the inauguration of the kingdom would mean that, in him and in his ministry of preaching and healing, God reigns or God rules. God’s forgiveness and mercy had been made visible. In other word it means that God loves unconditionally, he forgives unconditionally, he pardons unconditionally, he accepts unconditionally and, he is merciful unconditionally. The response of those who are willing to accept this startling revelation is one of acceptance of that love, forgiveness, pardon, acceptance, and mercy. This is not as easy as it sounds. Jesus calls the people to repentance which does not mean that one must be sorry for one’s sins. It means, rather, that one must get a new mind, a new heart, a new vision, and a new way of looking, like the man who came home one day and told his wife, “Honey, I’ve changed my mind”. “Thank God”, his wife replied, “I hope the new one will function better”. The old, prejudiced, closed, and narrow mind must be given up for a broad, flexible, and open mind that will take in, even if not in its entirety, this enormous truth. Since this truth is not a truth that Jesus wanted to keep to himself, but a truth to reveal to as many as possible, he calls disciples to share in this mission. Simon and Andrew, James and John, are called, and they respond immediately, and with generosity. They are willing to join Jesus in his mission of transforming the world.
Stressing the immediacy of this message, Paul invites the Corinthian community, in the second reading of today, to this change of mind, heart, and vision. It is a call to focus on things that matter, like the fact of God’s love, rather than on things which will take one away from this revelation.
This call is being issued to us today. It is a call that we are challenged to issue to others. It is a realization of the unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness of God, made visible and available in Jesus, freely, without charge or condition. It is a love which must, therefore, be shared with others.