The Reign of God is NOW!

“The time is fulfilled, and the Reign of God is here; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) It was with these words that Jesus began his ministry early in the first chapter of Mark. But what does that statement mean? What time has been fulfilled? How has the Reign of God come? What does it look like? And what are we supposed to repent from? What is this good news that we’re supposed to believe in? In other words, what are we supposed to do with all this??
Mark’s gospel makes me crazy and causes me to hyperventilate: ever since the Christmas season ended, we’ve been reading from Mark’s Gospel—this is the 6th week of Ordinary Time—and we’re still only in Chapter One! First, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by John, then Jesus begins his ministry by calling his first students, the disciples. After that John is arrested and Jesus tells us the time is fulfilled, then he goes to the synagogue and teaches “with authority”, and after that he heals a man possessed by an evil spirit, takes a break, goes to Simon’s house and heals his mother-in-law, and heals a bunch of people and casts out a bunch of demons.
That same evening, at sundown, the whole city gathers around the door to the mother-in-law’s house hoping for even more miracles, and many of them receive them, and this goes on well into the dark of night. It’s at that point that Jesus goes off by himself to pray, but his disciples track him down and tell him, “Yo, dude! What the heck are you doing?! Everybody’s looking for you!” He responds by telling them it’s time to move on, that there’s work to do elsewhere. So they go and continue proclaiming the gospel throughout Galilee.
Right then a leper, who’s apparently been creepin’ on him (as my students would say!) approaches and begs for a healing, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” And moved with either pity or anger—the Greek isn’t clear which—Jesus says, “Fine, I do choose that. Be made clean.” The leper is healed on the spot, Jesus gives him a stern warning about keeping his mouth shut, which the leper ignores and so Jesus is forced to head to Kendallville or some other awful place in the countryside because he is suddenly famous. But even there, his disciples are apparently tweeting his whereabouts, and updating their statuses on Facebook, because the crowds just keep coming.
Did you get all that? That’s all in chapter one!
One thing Mark’s gospel is very clear about is that this Jesus isn’t wasting any time. He is on a divine mission and he is pressing forward with urgency. Just last Sunday he told the boys, “Hey, come on. Let’s go to the neighboring towns, so I can tell them the good news as well, after all, that’s why I’m here.” (Mark 1:38) Which brings us right back to the opening lines of Mark’s Gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the Reign of God has come ; repent, and believe in the good news.” So, we’ve come full circle, back to that intriguing and maybe frustrating beginning.
It’s the urgency that is compelling: the time is fulfilled, and the Reign of God has come. It’s here now! Things are different today than they were yesterday. The waiting is over! God’s Reign has broken through the floodgates of heaven, and earth is being flooded as we speak. Come on, come on, there’s no time to waste!
The deluge that is overwhelming the earth, the in-breaking of the Reign of God, means only one thing: things are changing and they’re changing quickly! This is why Jesus is drinking caffeinated sports drinks and why he never seems to need sleep. He’s telling people about the Reign of God, AND he’s demonstrating what it is. He doesn’t go to the chief priests and scribes, or to other established religious authorities. He finds some ordinary, run of the mill, average and below-average fishermen, and teaches them about a different way to fish. He transforms their ordinary lives into lives of extraordinary service and ministry. He inspires them to leave behind everything they loved and valued and knew, everything that was comfortable, familiar and good, and to just trust him and follow him into the unknown. And suddenly they’re not just working 9 to 5 jobs, they’re active servants of the Kingdom, making the Reign of God a reality. Repent, and believe in the good news.
In the synagogue, he teaches with authority, but even more importantly, he casts out a demon—and not just any demon. He casts out a demon that had possessed an apparently good man who attended synagogue! Here was a man, a member of their community, a regular at worship, possessed by a demon, and Jesus simply reveals the inconsistencies within the man, and removes the barriers that prevented him from being a full and authentic member of the community. Repent, and believe in the good news.
Without missing a beat, Jesus is introduced to Simon’s sick mother-in-law—the matriarch of the family no doubt, but a woman and therefore something of a second-class person. Demonstrating that God’s boundaries are a lot wider that human boundaries, he heals her—still on the Sabbath!—and brings her from the fringes of her religion into the center. She is healed and transformed. And not only her, but also many in the community come knocking, and none is turned away. The Reign of God is all about extending grace to those who suffer. Repent, and believe in the good news.
Even the ones from the hillbilly countryside, the homeless, the crippled, the mentally ill, the gays and lesbians, the panhandlers and hookers, the ones who aren’t sure what they believe about God—even these are welcomed. The homeless man in today’s gospel even risked his life, going into the public square knowing that he was considered unclean, knowing that anyone who touched him even accidentally would also be unclean, but he wants some of what Jesus is offering. So he might be seen as dangerous or a bad influence or a nutcase, but he’s also carrying immense sorrow and brokenness–and he just needs something to change right now. “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Notice it’s not physical suffering he’s talking about. He doesn’t say, “Hey, Jesus, please heal my skin disease!” Instead, he wants to be made “clean”, which is another way of saying he is starving for community. And Jesus stretches out his hand, touches the man, even making himself unclean by doing so, and the man is made clean once more. It’s not because he asked for it, it’s not because he was worthy in the eyes of institutional religion; it’s because the time is fulfilled, and the Reign of God has come. Repent, and believe in the good news.
Here’s a little preview of what’s coming in the weeks ahead: Jesus never slows down, Mark continues his obsession with the word “immediately” and it becomes more and more apparent that the Reign of God is too huge, too radical, too freaking amazing for people to be gently coaxed into. It’s a tsunami of unconditional love and grace, humble sacrifice and acceptance, and there are way too many people in desperate need to hear it, that there isn’t time to take it slow. Everything we hold dear, everything we thought we knew, everything we cling to with needy hands is about to be swept away in the awesome onslaught of God’s love.
Although we may feel some days like ordinary, mediocre people doing boring assignments for our teachers, or working jobs we’re not crazy about, the truth is that God is calling us to do something extraordinary, using the abilities and talents we already possess to do the work of the Reign of God. What about our weaknesses, the limitations and failings and bad habits we stumble into so often? Doesn’t that make us unfit for this kind of work? Don’t bother trying to hide them; Jesus already knows about them, and he doesn’t care. Our humanness, our brokenness, are exactly what make us uniquely qualified to reach out to people just like ourselves, who also don’t think they’re worthy.
So, it doesn’t matter if you’re on the inside of the community, on its fringes, or well outside its bounds. Your waiting is over; it’s time to accept your welcome home and to accept the love of God right where you are. Turn away from the things that try to convince you that God couldn’t possibly love you, and know that that turning in a new direction is possible, and you can be free. Or, to use Jesus’ words: The time is fulfilled, and the Reign of God has come; repent, and believe in the good news.


About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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