The lakeshore was abuzz with talk. A rabbi, another rabbi, was wandering the countryside preaching and teaching. But unlike the other rabbis who had come through, this one wasn’t just talking about the law and the prophets. This one seemed more urgent. He never stayed in one place very long, saying that he was running out of time. And all the while he kept talking about this new kingdom, the kingdom of God. Some say he’s militia, ready to overthrow Rome. Some say he’s a prophet, pushing moral reform. Some say he’s a lunatic, making up nonsense that isn’t even in the scriptures. Whoever he is, though, he’s in an awfully big hurry.
And now he stands on the lakeshore and he’s looking at me. He’s asking me to follow him. He says it’s urgent. And so what if it is?...What if it is?
Today’s reading throws us back into the first chapter of Mark, to the familiar story of the calling of the first apostles. Like most people, when I read this passage I am flabbergasted at Simon, Andrew, James, and John’s willingness to drop their nets, literally in the middle of fishing, and follow Jesus.
I’ve heard some sermons chalk it up to a power dynamic: poor fisherman are approached by a respected rabbi and given the chance to learn from him and become respectable themselves, so they go. I’ve also heard it chalked up to the supernatural: Jesus is God and when he says follow, you do. But I think both of these answers miss the point. I think the reason for why these fishermen drop their nets in a hurry to follow Jesus lies in the verses that come before.
Today’s reading opens with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He has been baptized and spent forty days being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. Now he’s loose and on the move, preaching and teaching in the northern region of Galilee. His message is simple and clear. The NRSV translates his message this way: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Jesus begins by saying, “The time is fulfilled.” Do you know what that means? Do you ever say that to people?
“Hey Jimmy, when will the train arrive?”
“The time is fulfilled.”
“Hey mom, is dinner ready?”
“The time is fulfilled.”
Or my favorite,
“Hey Mo, are you done pumping that gas yet?”
“The time is fulfilled… the tank is filled full!”
That was a terrible joke. Sorry.
No. You don’t talk that way. Because that would be insane. And confusing.
For some reason the NRSV uses this strange language. But the NIV says it more plainly. It says, “The time has come”. The CEB says, “Now is the time!” The word the NRSV translates as “fulfilled” simply means complete. It’s the same word you would use to talk about filling up a glass of water. It’s like saying the clock has run out or the bottom of the hourglass is filled up with sand.
Even more important is the word Jesus uses for “time.” In Greek, there are two words for time. One is chronos and it simply refers to the time of day. The other is kairos and it refers to important moments. When Jesus says that the time is now or the time has come, he is using the word kairos. It is as if he is saying, “this is a critical moment,” or maybe “this is the moment of truth,” or maybe, “it all comes down to this moment.” Simply by using the word kairos, Jesus declares this moment as singularly important.
I think part of the reason Simon, Andrew, James, and John are so quick to drop their nets is that they’ve heard Jesus preach and they sense the urgency in his mission. He talks about the present moment as an important moment, maybe the most important moment. Jesus is on an urgent mission and he doesn’t have time to slow down.
Mark uses the world “immediately” over 40 times in his gospel to underscore this point. Jesus calls the apostles to follow and they have only a split second to make a decision. It’s as if Jesus walks along the lakeshore calling people to follow him and not even stopping to see if they do.
Even more important than the urgency of Jesus’ message is the substance of his message. He proclaims urgently that the kingdom of God is about to arrive. The moment has come. But there’s also a call to action. We can’t sit passively. We have to do something. We have to “repent.”
Repent. How does that word make you feel? It bums me out. When someone uses the word repent, I almost always stop listening. It’s a loaded word, repent. Preachers on TV like to tell people to “repent of their sins and turn to God.” And then there’s those big billboards on the highway with block letters saying: REPENT. And usually there are flames below it and a pretty blue sky with clouds above it.
When I hear the word repent, I feel dirty, sinful, and judged. It makes me feel like the person telling me to repent has it all together, and I don’t. Thankfully, this moralistic idea of repentance is not really what Jesus is talking about. He has something very different in mind.
“Repent” is a poor translation of the Greek word found in this passage. The word is metanoia, and it actually means “to change one’s mind.” The word “repent” reduces Jesus’ message purely to moral ideas (“stop sinning!”), and while Jesus is concerned about morality, it is not the full focus of his message. One person translates metanoia as “going beyond the mind that you have.” We could talk about metanoia not just as “changing your mind,” but as “broadening your mind,” “expanding your mind,” or maybe best of all: “seeing things in a new and different way.”
That’s quite different than the moralistic call to just stop sinning, isn’t it?
When Jesus shows up on the scene, he starts telling people that a new kingdom is coming and it’s time for people to start changing how they see the world. It’s as if Jesus is saying, God’s kingdom is coming soon, but you won’t see it if you look for it with your current eyes. You have to learn to see things differently.
Jesus’ opening sermon, therefore, can be summarized as an urgent call to change the way we see. Jesus insists that we have to start seeing the world through the lens of the kingdom of God or we’ll miss it.
So what does it mean to see the world through the kingdom of God?
How do we “change our minds”?
How do we “go beyond the mind that we have?”
Well, we do as Simon, Andrew, James, and John did.
We follow Jesus.
The kingdom of God is filled with surprising and unexpected things, things that go against our assumptions and expectations.
Our world, and particularly the church, teaches us to value moral people. But when Jesus came, he went not to the holy people, like the high priests, the pharisees, and the scribes; instead, he ate at tables with prostitutes and tax collectors, the sinners, the immoral, the dirty.
Our world teaches us that success is measured in wealth. But when a rich man came to Jesus asking him what he must do to see the kingdom of God, Jesus told him to sell everything he had.
Our world teaches us to value ability. Every two years we celebrate the most talented people in the world at the Olympics. Even in the Special Olympics we celebrate the incredible achievements of those whom we label as disabled. But this still teaches us to put a high value on ability. And so we ignore and reject those people who are not even able enough to get out of bed. We push them into homes and keep them indoors, putting them on the margins of our society so we don’t have to look at them. But when Jesus came, he went straight to the bed-ridden sick, the lame, and the cast-out leper and he told them that they are of greatest value in the kingdom of God.
Our world teaches us that youthfulness is valuable, but that youth are worthless. Cosmetics commercials peddle how they can make you look younger; because looking young is the ideal in our culture. One poll showed that the average person will spend roughly $200,000 on cosmetics in their lifetime. That’s $200,000 spent trying to look different, and most likely younger, than you actually are. And yet it seems we care far more about looking youthful than we do about young people.
We in the church are particularly guilty of this sin. We tell children that they cannot be full members until they are adults. They are not of value until they reach a certain age. We give them their own room to gather, yes, but we put it all the way down at the end of the hall, like an afterthought. We say we want more youth in the church, but we are not willing to make changes that help make youth feel more comfortable. We say that the youth are the future and fail to realize that they are here with us right now in the present. It’s as though we want youth around only because they make us feel younger. When But Jesus’ disciples told a group of children to leave them alone, Jesus scolded the disciples and said, “The kingdom of God belongs to children.”
Our world teaches us to value strength and winning. How often do we talk about “America winning” or “American strength.” I’m reminded of that bumper sticker that says, “My kid could beat up your honors student.” We put a high value on strength and turn up our noses at weakness. But when Jesus came, he spent all of his time with the weak. And when his ministry came to an end, it came to an end on a cross, the symbol of defeat, weakness, and shame. In the kingdom of God, Paul writes, God uses what is weak to humble the strong.
To see the world through the kingdom of God is to see the world completely differently. The kingdom of God values all the people our world calls worthless. The kingdom of God saves everyone our world throws out. The kingdom of God looks like failure in the eyes of the successful. This kingdom is out there for us to see; but first we have to go beyond the mind we have.
One of the challenges for us today is that we lack the urgency the apostles felt. Our reading from First Corinthians shows us that Paul felt a strong sense of urgency. He believed the time was short and Jesus was coming back in his lifetime. But then Jesus didn’t come back. And, two-thousand years later, he still hasn’t. The sharp edge of urgency has dulled over two-thousand years. Now, when we hear that Jesus is coming back soon, we yawn and say “Yeah. Yeah. Alright. I know. Whatever you say.” We have two-thousand years of evidence to the contrary.
Despite all that, though, Jesus’ call to change our minds is no less urgent today than it was 2,000 years ago. The agendas, the values, the ideals of our world tattoo themselves on our brains from an early age. Maybe that’s what original sin is. We cannot help but think the way the world has taught us to think. But when we all go along with what the world thinks, people get hurt. They suffer. They die.
Look around you: the world is in urgent need of healing. It always has been. The sick, the young, the widows, the orphans, the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the refugee, and the slaves to sin cry out urgently for help. That’s why Jesus preached and moved so urgently. And that is why it is so urgent for each and every one of us to change our minds and see the world through the kingdom of God.
Because it may not seem like it, but the moment of truth is here; the kingdom of God has come near. It’s time to change your mind.