Today’s gospel reading is very familiar, so familiar that we sometimes focus only on the call of the four men to leave their ordinary occupation of fishing and follow Jesus. Of course, that was a pretty big deal. Anytime we are asked to leave what is familiar, what we feel confident doing – in their case the job that supported their families – it is a really big deal. Peter, Andrew, James and John were called by Jesus to leave their boats and nets for the sake of the kingdom of God.
The concept of the kingdom of God is elusive. Jesus talked about it in parables and used everyday examples to describe its contagious energy. It isn’t a geographical place like a country or even a group of people like the church. It is better described as a new state of mind that empowers a new way of life. It grows through relationships in which people experience caring about one another and loving God. Jesus was enthusiastic about inviting people into that new way of life. He showed what it looked like through his interactions with others and he taught them to pray for its coming. He knew that once people experienced it, they would never want to give it up.
There is another aspect to this gospel story, and that is the timing. Why did Jesus choose to begin his proclamation of the kingdom and his invitations to people to follow him at this particular time? John the Baptizer had discerned when he was supposed to begin his prophetic work of preparing the people for the coming of Jesus by paying attention to the signs of the world around him. He recognized the call of God, he understood the urgency of the prophetic message and he delivered it. Prophetic ministry is not easy. Prophets are often not very popular, at least not with those who want to maintain the status quo. Our world always needs prophetic voices, but it comes with a cost. John paid that price, he was arrested and then killed.
Jesus also discerned his call to action by paying attention to the signs of the world around him. He began his ministry after John was put in prison. Mark emphasizes that Jesus was led by the Spirit of God, and it was the Spirit who inspired him to proclaim that a new moment in history had arrived. He returned to Galilee, the area where he grew up, and proclaimed, “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near…” The Kairos moment had arrived – the opportune time, a moment in human history when God’s activity on earth reaches a peak. Jesus must have been able to convey the enthusiasm he felt about this opportunity to share the good news because people responded to his call to repent and believe, just as they had responded to John the Baptizer. There was an irresistible sense of joy and hope that led people to accept the invitation to a new way of life.
Everyone who heard Jesus was called to recognize this Kairos moment and decide whether or not they would accept his invitation to listen, learn and believe the message he brought. Jesus did this in public, inviting the ordinary people in the countryside, in the villages and even in the city of Jerusalem. There were also some who he invited to give of themselves so completely that they would abandon their ordinary lives and accompany him on his journey. We know about some of them, we even know some of their names. The twelve who formed a core group around him. The women who supported them, traveled with him to Jerusalem and became the witnesses to his crucifixion. Luke mentions 70 who were sent out on missions by Jesus. There were those like the apostle Paul who were called after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Many remain anonymous, but they were no less fervent in their hope-filled acceptance of his message, their adoption of a new way of life, and in some cases, the giving up of their own earthly lives for the sake of their faith.
The kingdom of God is just as near today as it was when Jesus came to Galilee and preached about it. We are still called to repent and believe. We have to recognize our Kairos moment and decide if we will accept the invitation. In furthering Christ’s mission, we all share in the duty of paying attention to the signs of the world around us, interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, and discerning what God is calling us to do. We take Jesus’ preaching and we apply it to the world we find ourselves living in now. In “Laudato Si”, or “Care for Our Common Home”, Pope Francis calls us to “review those questions which are troubling us today and which we can no longer sweep under the carpet.” He says that by doing this we “dare to turn what is happening in the world into our own personal suffering and thus discover what each of us can do about it.”
Our gospel for today is one of those stories that sums up the whole Gospel message and invites us to become part of it. This is our Kairos, the only moment of history that we have and it is in our hands. The Kairos time of fulfillment that began with the ministry of Jesus continues and everyone is invited to respond to it and enter into a new way of life. We become so influenced by the teaching of Jesus that we leave all else behind. If we want to understand and implement Jesus’ vision today, we must pause from our busy lives and take time to contemplate our own reality, to be attentive to the signs of the times. We need to cultivate the “serene attentiveness” that Pope Francis speaks of and respond with gratitude to God. Only then can we perceive God’s intentions for us and the world. We may be able to implement the vision and follow the way of life envisioned by Jesus in our current lives, or we may be called to leave the ordinary, to move away from what seems predictable and safe and embrace a new life. Not everyone is called to leave their current situation, but all of us are called to discern God’s will and respond to our Kairos moment. Amen.