24 January 2021, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
“The beginning of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ the Son of God…”
The Gospel of Mark opens with a trumpet blast. No introduction to speak of, simply the bold and unvarnished declaration of “Good News” embodied in the person of Jesus.
Mark gives us no tales of shepherds watching their flocks by night, or angel choirs singing sweetly o’er the plains. There are no wise men coming from the east, following yonder star in this telling of the story.
Instead Mark gives us the person of John the Baptist, in the wilderness of Judea, standing in the Jordan river “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus comes to John, along with people from Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside and is baptized like everyone else, nobody special. Until the heavens are opened, and he sees the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and the voice from heaven declares “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And immediately the Spirit drives him into the desert for forty days and forty nights, with the wild beasts and the Tempter and the angels of God.
That is all the setup we get, prior to this morning’s gospel. The story is almost breathless in its urgency—the Gospel writer seems unable to get the words out quickly enough. Things happen in rapid succession: John the Baptist appears, Jesus is baptized, the Voice speaks, and immediately Jesus is in the wilderness.
“Immediately” is one of the favorite words of the writer of Mark’s gospel. It occurs over and over, reminding those who hear it that time is short—indeed, time’s up!
Jesus says as much in this morning’s gospel reading, as he begins his public ministry in Galilee. “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news!”
Another translation says, “Change your hearts and have faith in the good tidings.” (David Bentley Hart, The New Testament)
The word usually translated “repent” in the New Testament is metanoia.
Metanoia. Turn around, you’re going the wrong way.
Metanoia. You missed the turn off of I-35, you don’t want to go to Tulsa, you want to get off at the Guthrie exit. So you take the next exit, and turn around, and go back in the right direction. And maybe you have to commit metanoia again, several times, to reach your destination. But that’s okay! Adjust direction as often as needed—but by all means keep your destination in sight and keep going.
Episcopal priest and writer Cynthia Bougeault puts it this way: “The word ‘metanoia’…literally means to go ‘beyond the mind’ or ‘into the larger mind.” It means to escape from the orbit [of judgement that wants to divide everything into binary categories] and move instead into that nondual knowingness of the heart which can see and live from the perspective of wholeness. This is the central message of Jesus. This is what his Kingdom of Heaven is all about.” (The Wisdom Jesus, p. 41)
And it is that word “metanoia” that stands behind all our scripture readings this morning, this third Sunday after the Epiphany in the year of grace 2021. Jonah and Paul, the Psalmist and the gospel writer all declare: Change direction, change your way of thinking and behaving—something great is coming, it’s already here!
The kingdom of God has come near;
The grace of God has delivered you;
The love of God is for you.
The gospel writer is in such haste to tell what happens next, the words tumble forth almost faster than ears can listen. “The time is fulfilled/Time’s up!” And those who hear these good tidings are invited to make a response, to drop everything and come along. The call to “change your hearts” is a call to put down, let go, drop the distractions and focus on the One who has come, declaring and embodying the good tidings of God.
And what is that good news?
What are those good tidings?
At his baptism Jesus is proclaimed “Beloved of God” and immediately (there it is again!) he is sent into the wilderness by the Spirit to learn what that means. Today we hear the beginning of his public ministry, in which this identity “You are my Beloved” is at once WHO Jesus is, and the good news/glad tidings that he shares.
You, Simon, are God’s Beloved.
You, Andrew, are God’s Beloved.
You, James and John and Zebedee, are God’s Beloved.
Turn to your neighbor. Turn to someone nearby (even in this season of social distancing) and look them in the eye, and tell them: “You are God’s Beloved.”
This is the Good News that Jesus has received and that he proclaims to everyone he encounters. That they, each and all, are known to God and loved by God and called to live in that reality and share that good news. It is this that calls for—even demands—metanoia, repentance, a change of mind and heart and action.
Because the bad news, the old news, the false news that must be rejected, says things like, “Not enough. Not good enough. Not smart enough.
Not fast enough, or pretty enough.
Not enough money, or time, or resources.
Not acceptable, not adequate, not worthy.”
You can fill in the missing words, everyone has words to add to that evil lying list.
Those words were given to us by the world, perhaps by people who meant well, or perhaps by people or situations that did not mean well at all. And we believed them, and took them in, and repeated them to ourselves. Out of fear, mostly, and self-protection. If I say it first, then maybe it won’t hurt so much. If I hold back because I believe the bad words, then I don’t risk getting hurt or looking foolish.
I think that’s why the gospel writer is so eager to share the Good News, words tumbling out faster than tongue can speak or pen can write. May be that’s why everything in Mark’s gospel happens “immediately”, because the time is fulfilled; in fact, time’s up! The bad news has met its end. It will try to hold on as long as it can, but the Good News that Jesus brings will ultimately have the final word. And that word is Joy. That word is Welcome. That word is Love.
From Anglican poet and theologian Malcolm Guite: “The call of the disciples”
He calls us all to step aboard his ship,
Take the adventure on this morning’s wing,
Raise sail with him, launch out into the deep,
Whatever storms or floods are threatening.
If faith gives way to doubt, or love to fear,
Then as on Galilee, we’ll rouse the Lord,
For he is always with us, and will hear,
And make our peace with his creative Word.
Who made us, loved us, formed us, and has set
All his beloved lovers in an ark;
Borne upwards by his Spirit, we will float
Above the rising waves, the falling dark,
As fellow pilgrims, driven toward that haven
Where all will be redeemed, fulfilled, forgiven.
Image: “The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew”, Duccio Di Buoninsegna, 1308-1311; Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington