The Gospel of Mark is often referred to as the "Kingdom Gospel" because it builds on the initial proclamation found in today's reading. We, like the listeners in Galilee, are invited to repent and believe. Immediately following this invitation, we have two examples of what the invitation requires. The first followers of Jesus immediately abandon their nets, and the sons of Zebedee not only abandon their nets, they also abandon their father.
Mark also tells us that Jesus went to Galilee to begin his ministry. Why not Jerusalem? Jerusalem was the religious and political center of Israel, and anyone announcing a new future for Israel would have been expected to do so there - after all it was the "Holy City."
As Jesus' ministry develops, however, it becomes clear that Jerusalem was the one place in Israel that was least likely to accept his message. The powerful people in government and religion had far too much to protect. They couldn't possibly tolerate a call for change or reform - or as St. Paul put it: "...the world in its present form is passing away."
"This is the time of fulfillment," Jesus announced. All of the hopes and dreams of Israel are about to be realized. The many years of waiting are over. The kingdom of God is at hand. The Messiah has come… God would deliver his people from bondage and bring everlasting peace. But that's only part of the Good News.
Isn't it "good news" that God is always with us, that He stays with us, patiently and persistently, until we recognize Him and fall happily, gratefully, into His embrace? That message alone can peace to our minds and hearts.
It is Jesus who takes the initiative. The first disciples leave everything immediately and without hesitation. It is as if they have been waiting all their lives for that call and now they know that they must follow Jesus right then and there, even though it might involve personal loss and sacrifice. Nor is their response something private - it is a call to come together with others who have likewise responded. It means traveling along the road together with fellow disciples of Jesus. In a very real sense, this was the beginning of "church."
No group of people, no family, no organization is without problems. We cannot possibly all think the same way; we cannot all come to the same decisions in matters of conscience or morality; we cannot be free of all doubt; we cannot be absolutely sinless - but we can, and we must, gather around Jesus in the Eucharist, listening to his life-giving word, welcoming his very substance into ourselves, respecting each other's good will and sincerity of conscience; loving friend and stranger; caring for the needs of all; sharing Christ especially with those who are the most confused, the most in doubt, the most scandalized.
Christianity isn't something we can put on as we would a new suit or a new outfit. And people may not recognize us as anointed with the Spirit. They don't see the inner beauty that makes us glorious in the sight of our God. Maybe we don't even recognize ourselves as being called to serve. Maybe we're too busy, too preoccupied to recognize the power and the beauty of the Holy Spirit abiding in us. And if we're not conscious of that incredible gift, if we don't celebrate the presence of the Spirit every day and make His power and goodness known in our speech, our attitudes and our decisions, then people won't really recognize the Good News that we are sent to proclaim in His name.
The first disciples dropped everything and left to follow Jesus immediately. In a certain sense, we too need to recognize the immediacy of His call… the importance of His message for today's world.
Our role as disciples is to seek and find His goodness, His truth, and His love in all persons, and to connect with them eagerly. We need to reevaluate and understand our role as church - as intended by Jesus - to be that of herald, proclaimer, model and catalyst. Constant dialogue and interaction must be the hallmarks of the Christian community, bringing about continual change and transformation, which, as Cardinal Newman said more than a century ago, is the path to eventual perfection.
It will not be easy. It is never easy. It wasn't easy for the first disciples who left the busyness of their daily lives to follow and to proclaim. But that must not deter us from our dreams and our efforts at renewal and conversion: to do anything less would be pure selfishness, a tragic sign that we care only for ourselves and not about those future generations who, with us, are church.
The Lord sends us an urgent invitation to participate in important work. The Kingdom is at hand and this is "good news."