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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Classic

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mark 1: 14–20

Gospel Summary

Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus went to Galilee to begin his messianic ministry. We have become so accustomed to hearing this that we no longer notice how odd it was. Jerusalem was the religious and political center of Israel and anyone announcing a new future for Israel would have been expected to declare his intentions there. 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 the capital city had far too much to protect. They could tolerate only a “controlled” reform.

Mark wastes no time in pointing out the implications of the public mission of Jesus in Galilee: “This is the time of fulfillment.” All the hopes and dreams of Israel are about to be realized. The thousand-plus years of waiting are over. This is so because “The kingdom of God is at hand.” The hopes of Israel had been centered in the promised messianic kingdom through which God would deliver his people from bondage and bring everlasting peace. At long last the promise is being fulfilled; the Messiah has arrived.

But the kingdom that Jesus had in mind was both far less and far more that anyone in Israel had imagined—far less, because it would not mean the end of the hated Roman occupation; far more, because it would reveal a Messiah who is the Son of God. Thus, as their small dreams were crushed, unimaginable divine dreams were being substituted. To nurture these dreams, Jesus would choose, not clever politicians, but simple honest fishermen. He knew that for his purposes a good and generous heart was more important than a proud and ambitious head.

Life Implications

This gospel seems especially appropriate for the early years of a new millennium, for we are painfully aware that, though 2000 years have passed, we have not yet seen the fulfillment of God’s promises. The solution to this dilemma is the recognition that the fulfillment envisioned by Jesus is constantly being offered to us. It is a “rolling” fulfillment that each person must discover in his or her own lifetime. As such, it should be the primary project of our lives. Jesus has come, but he is also still coming, and each one of us must ask whether he is being welcomed. Fulfillment is offered; it is never imposed.

To live in the expectation of fulfillment is to live in the bittersweet world of promise. What we hope for is still awaited, and that is painful; but we also live in joyful expectation of what will be, and that is comforting beyond words. We may be struggling in a dark valley, but the horizon is illuminated by God’s utterly trustworthy promise.

We note that Jesus called his first disciples from their workplaces. This is a reminder that there is a purpose in life beyond work and that this larger purpose is found in our response to God’s call to walk with him. This means taking time for prayer and gradually getting to know the Lord as the very center of our lives. For we must come to understand that it is in him alone that the value of our work and the precious gift of other people will be found again and again…unto eternity.

Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.

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