Saturday, July 11, 2009

The kingdom of God is at hand

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

- Mark 1:14-28

Jesus preaches the good news of the kingdom. To repent is to turn toward this kingdom, to wish to experience it. This is a call to something happening in the world, something to open up one's eyes to. The kingdom is near, it is at hand.

A note in my study bible recounts that Jesus already knows the people he is calling to be his disciples; they follow him readily. He didn't hesitate to call upon friends and relatives, a circle of people who are already acquainted and have ties with one another. Among his disciples are brothers and relatives of one another and of Jesus himself. There is already a relationship of trust. The important note here is that Jesus himself calls these people: they do not choose themselves to be his followers. This is in contrast to rabbinic discipleship, where a student will choose to follow a leader. This is an important clue about the way relationship works in this kingdom, and in the understanding of spiritual connection. In many parables, Jesus refers to those who are called, invited. The Revelation speaks of a knock on the door. The initiative comes from Christ.

Mark's gospel proceeds very quickly; many events have happened and time has elapsed. Jesus' teaching in the Capernaum temple reveals the nature of this Person who calls us, his authority. Jesus is not "certified" by special credentials, or the formal education he has received, or a lineage of teachers to which he has belonged. There is an inner authority in his teaching, something inspirational and initiated from within himself, as part of his character or persona. A note in my study bible says, "He needs no credentials nor the renown of others to back Him up."

That authority extends to the power over the demons, demonstrated here at the temple. His own authority is something stunning and different to people in the temple - first his teaching is not like that of the scribes, who will go into detail about their studies, repeating what they have been taught, the history of their particular tradition. But then another dimension of that authority asserts itself to cement this understanding in confrontation with a demon. The demon tries to tell Jesus to leave him alone, but has no authority or power in a confrontation with Jesus.

So, we are given authority and its nature of power in three ways: it is Christ who calls people to join him in discipleship and in the kingdom that is at hand, it is Jesus who preaches or rather teaches with authority as someone who has this authority as part of his character and selfhood, his persona. This is a gift that belongs to him, not acquired through study as the scribes do. It is original and inspired. And finally the power over demons - in his presence they are not free to do as they wish, their time of confinement and limitation has come.

So Mark begins his gospel with an understanding for us and initiation into this kingdom, this realm of Christ - and especially into an understanding of his authority, just who Jesus really is. We are immediately in the presence of one with authority, the one who has been sent and shows all signs and evidence of the fulfillment of prophecy in his Person. For Mark, also known as John Mark by tradition, an early follower and disciple whose mother was also one of the earliest Jerusalem Christians, Jesus is clearly and immediately the prophesied messiah, the fulfillment of scripture, the awaited one. We get a sense of what it is to be a devout Jew who immediately embraces the impact of this reality, this understanding, that Jesus is the one who has been awaited, that the time of the kingdom is at hand. Jesus' immediate followers are those called from among the group of kinship and relatedness to work for this kingdom, this new reality to which all must turn in repentance and embrace. The kingdom has come near; its fulfillment is ahead.

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