Ordinary Time – Cycle
Jon 3, 1-5.10
1 Cor 7, 29-31
Mk 1, 14-20
Today’s Gospel places us at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he begins to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God, inviting men and women to believe and to convert. To announce the Kingdom is to proclaim with certainty the closeness of God and the realization of his plan of love and of liberation in history; to believe in the Gospel and convert is faith’s response that man and woman offer to God, accepting his word and following his ways. The habitants of Nineveh, which converted before Jonah’s preaching, Jesus’ disciples, that leaving everything followed him, are humanity’s model that listens and obeys the voice of God and accepts with faith salvation’s announcement.
The first reading (Jon 3, 1-5.10) is taken from the book of Jonah, written between 450 and 200 BC. The work constitutes a most beautiful parable that possesses the didactic finality of showing God’s infinite love and mercy for all men and women. Jonah, the principal person in the story, was sent by God to preach conversion to a pagan city, Nineveh, but at the beginning resisted his mission (Jon 1-2). Jonah represents probably closed Jewish circles and nationalists of his epoch; Nineveh, the foreign, pagan and enemy city, represents all sinful men and women and those excluded from salvation. The book wants to show that for God there is no exception of persons because as the New Testament will say: “he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2,4). Also the hard and egocentric Jonah that did not want to go to Nineveh knew it: “since I knew you were a tender, compassionate God, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, who relents about inflicting disaster” (Jon 4,2). Jonah goes to Nineveh and the city converts. In this way, the book is a hard critic of religious exclusivity and pride of those that believe themselves to be good and discriminate against the rest as evil and sinners. The word of Jonah was a sign of God for that population that decided to convert; Jesus is “a sign for this generation” (Lk 11,30). Jesus, the Son of God, “has come to seek out and save what was lost” (Lk 19,10), “he is much greater than Jonah” (Lk 11, 29-32).
The second reading (1 Cor 7, 29-31) reflects the eschatological urgency that the first Christian community lived. Paul speaks of human reality (joys, sorrows, love, interests) in the light of Easter. For the believer everything acquires a new value: in the light of the death and the resurrection of Jesus is imposed a new scale of values that obligate a radical decision. With the arrival of the Kingdom and with Easter, time and history have shortened, everything has reached its end (v. 29: “time has become limited”). The world’s values and schemes have been overcome (v. 31: “this world as we know it is passing away”). There is imposed a new way of life. For this reason, Paul invites Corinth’s believers to organize their lives in the light of the new reality that has changed history and according to the model of the evangelical announcement of Christ. The text is a strong invitation to discover new meaning that history has acquired with the definitive intervention of God.
The Gospel (Mk 1, 14-20) narrates Jesus’ initial kerygma , that Mark calls the “Gospel of God” (Mk 1,4). This “good news” is of God because he is the subject that has taken the initiative of the message, but also because he is its object and content. In reality Jesus announces the same God as “good news”. With the proclamation of the Kingdom, salvation’s history arrives at its fullness. All of God’s saving interventions find in Jesus their fulfillment and highest realization. John the Baptist and the desert, symbols of preparation and waiting have stayed behind. Now Jesus, “after John had been arrested” (Mk 1,14), he goes to the north of country, abandons the desert and goes into the cities of Galilee. He does not stay in solitude, nor claim that men and women need to withdraw from the world and their responsibilities to go to search out the Kingdom. The proclamation of the Kingdom does not resound in the desert, but in the cities of Galilee, there where men and women live and work, in their ambiance and in the midst of their daily preoccupations. Jesus commences saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel” (1,15).
The Kingdom is the fulfillment of God’s promises. In Judaism of Jesus’ time, the expression “Kingdom of God” resumed everything that Israel hoped for from the Messianic times as the epoch of the definitive manifestation of God. The Kingdom is the good news that God has intervened mysteriously in time to transform everything. It is the announcement of salvation and pardon, of live and of peace, of justice and of liberty that God gives to all men and women. When Jesus announces that the Kingdom is arriving, he is saying that God, as Lord and absolute King of the cosmos and of history, shows his sovereignty, his merciful love and justice: “Yahweh is king! Let earth rejoice, the many isles be glad…Yahweh loves those who have evil, he keeps safe his faithful, rescues them from the clutches of the wicked. Light dawns for the upright, and joy for honest hearts!” (Ps 97, 1.10-100; cf. Ps 93; 96). God presents himself as sovereign offering pardon to sinners, bringing justice for the poor and giving everyone life and salvation. During the last supper with his disciples Jesus will turn to remember the reality of the Kingdom: “In truth I tell you, I shall never drink wine any more until the day I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God” (14,25). It is Jesus’ great preoccupation: the Kingdom of God, imminent and yet always about to arrive, experienced and yet object of hope. The end of the eschatological discourse affirms contemporaneously his immanence (13,30) and its uncertain distance (13,32). Jesus presented it as a reality that would be seen by some of those present (9,1), as something present, close (1,15). For Mark, the Kingdom coincides with the same person of Jesus, whose coming anticipates its full realization: the historical Jesus of the evangelical text and Christ present in the Church. Nevertheless, the Gospel of Mark also speaks of the future dimension of the Kingdom, by means of calls to vigilante and faithful waiting of his disciples: “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come…if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I am saying to you I say to all: Stay awake!” (13,33).
With Jesus the Kingdom arrives. His words and works make it present. And before the radical newness that brings about its profile, many ask themselves about his person and mull over his form of acting and speaking (cf. 1,27; 2,7; 4,41); and diverse opinions and reactions are raised up (1,21; 1,28; 2,12; 3,6; 3,20-21; 31-32; 6,14-16); many follow him (1,33. 37.45; 3,20; 4,2; 5,21.24; 6,31; etc.), but his same disciples begin to have much difficulty in understanding him (6,52; 7,18; 8,15-18). His fellow citizens of Nazareth ask themselves: “Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked [power] through him?” (6,2). This is precisely the Kingdom: wisdom and power. Wisdom (in Greek: sofia), in the Bible’s language, indicates a form of behavior and reaction; it is not something that only has to be seen with the intellect, but that takes in all existence: it is a form of live, a new stance before God, before others and the world. Power (in Greek: dynamis), on the other hand, indicates the energy that animates or gives life to something, or the capacity to realize certain actions. The Kingdom is new wisdom and new power, that has been manifested first in Jesus, but that every disciple is called to live, but the wisdom and strength that come from the Gospel and that transform this world. To the intervention of God, the disciple responds with the compromise and response of faith, which manifests itself above all through “the conversion”. Each man and woman ought to model and orient their conduct and their mentality according the Kingdom’s values. The response to the Kingdom supposes a change of routine in one’s way of life, a new way of relating with God, with others and the world. Conversion is supported in faith. To convert and believe in the Gospel are the two faces of the same reality. Man and woman convert in the measure that they adhere to Christ and to the Gospel and believe in the plan of God.