Third Sunday In Ordinary Time B: January 21, 2024

Mark 1: 14-20

Fr. John Tran

Notice that Jesus waited to choose the best time to begin his public ministry. He waited until John was no longer preaching, and began a message very similar to John the Baptist’s message. Jesus began the completion of John’s word of repentance by giving repentance a purpose. Jesus’ word was not simply to repent because someone greater was coming. That person, Jesus, had come; his message was “repent and believe in the gospel.”

How was that gospel different from John’s? Jesus’ gospel was to repent in the sense of turning toward something. That something was to begin to bring about the Kingdom of God. This kingdom was not just to avoid committing sin or imperfections against the Law of Moses, but to work toward an existence where all people were important, where even those who were powerless were empowered and as important to us as they are to God. This is the Kingdom of God. We think of this as existing in heaven, but it can and must begin now; in fact Jesus asks us to begin it.

A Russian youth who had become a conscientious objector to war, through reading of Tolstoy and the New Testament. He was brought before a magistrate. With the strength of conviction he told the judge that he believed in a life which loves its enemies, which does good to those who harm you, and doing this overcomes evil, and so he refuses to take part in war. “Yes,” said the judge, “I understand. But you must be realistic. These laws you are talking about are the laws of the Kingdom of God, and it has not come yet.” The young man straightened and said, “Sir, I recognize it has not come for you, nor yet for much of Russia or the world. But the Kingdom of God has come for me! I can’t go on hating and killing as though it had not come.” In a way, the Russian youth summed up what we believe about the Kingdom of God. How soon will the plan of God for his Kingdom be realized? It depends much on how serious and committed we are to be on God’s side and cooperate with his plan. And that is exactly what comes next today’s gospel reading.

Jesus begins to choose those who would help him spread this gospel: his disciples, two sets of brothers. First there was Simon and Andrew, then James and John. They were all fishermen, which would make them not well educated and of the working class. It is interesting to note how Jesus called them. When Jesus called them they were at their ordinary jobs. They were not at prayer, they were not in the Temple or at the Synagogue studying the Law which the did on the Sabbath. No, they were doing what they always did to earn their living, thinking their ordinary thoughts.

But Jesus passed by and invited them: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” This must have surprised them very much. After all, Jesus did not yet have any reputation. But something within this man, Jesus, made them take notice, and without a thought, they left work and family and did follow Jesus. He touched something so deep in them, that they could not refuse.

Yes, Jesus touched something deeply in these sets of brothers, but committing to following Jesus is not a one time thing, so to speak. The challenges Jesus threw out to them were ever changing things. Today it is dealing with healing on the Sabbath and the harsh reactions this caused from the Pharisees. Tomorrow it is the prospect of Jesus sending them out on their own to preach the coming of the Kingdom and to heal those sick in body and soul. Later it is the arrest in the garden and dealing with what seemed to be the end of hopes and dreams. Their choice to follow would be a commitment that has to be made over and over again. Commitment is a living thing.

God is present in our lives too, not just when we are at prayer, but during our whole day. We do need to set time aside to be with God, so that we may be attuned to hear God when he inspires us at any time. We, also, need to constantly remind ourselves that we do not come out of Mass and then go about our day as if nothing of consequence has happened.

Do I make time for God? Do I try to listen all day long? What might I learn and try to make God’s Kingdom present now? How can I recommit to Jesus daily, from moment to moment as Jesus presents himself to us moment after moment, often unseen, but present nonetheless. Do we open the ear of our heart to let his message and his invitation enter our heart?