Mark’s gospel has no Christmas story, no manger or shepherds in Bethlehem, no Magi or star to lead them. And yet, the Christmas narrative is embedded within this gospel. It begins with the words: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “gospel” had a double meaning in Mark’s time. “Gospel” or “good news” was used in secular circles to announce an important event such as the birth of an heir to the Roman emperor. Mark with Spirit-filled inspiration announced the good news of the birth of the true king, Jesus the Christ, the promised Messiah. He embraced Isaiah’s use of “good news.” Centuries before, the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7). In today’s gospel, Jesus Christ is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic words. Jesus is announcing peace, bringing good news and salvation.
But Mark first throws cold water in our face. He writes these jarring words: “Now after John was arrested.” Only then does Mark complete his sentence: “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’” (Mk 1:14-20 NRSV). Mark is telling us that Jesus lived in dangerous times. But that did not deter him from proclaiming the good news.
We live in a broken world. Today, it is a world of a pandemic and polarized society, of illness and unemployment, of loneliness and homelessness. The gospel never denies the reality in which we live. But the gospel also tells us that the world is filled with more, is charged with God’s grace and presence. Jesus reminds us of this truth with his good news.
Jesus invited his first disciples to follow him in proclaiming that good news – a time of peace and salvation in the midst of illness and darkness. Peter, Andrew, James, and John left everything to follow Jesus. They left behind emotional, social, and economic security. Jesus challenged them to let go of everything they were familiar with in order to join him in a journey of spiritual growth and self-awareness.
Christ calls us too; right now. The time – kairos time, God’s time – is fulfilled. This is our decisive moment. This kairos time divides our past from our future. Christ invites us to new life. It is time to repent, time to leave behind our old lives, time to drop those nets that tangle us in false security and detachments. Only then can Jesus transform us into fishers of people by proclaiming the good news.
The kingdom is near, the kingdom is among us. In Jesus Christ, the kingdom has entered our time and place and circumstances. It is time for us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ – as the Apostle Paul tells us “in season and out of season.” Today, we find ourselves in the “out of season.” Nevertheless, this present reality is the place where Christ meets us. Here is where he beckons us: “follow me.”
Today, this kairos time, we enter Ordinary Time. God is very much with us in these times. And yet, for us, the good news is also this: that not even a global pandemic can arrest Jesus Christ, or us, in proclaiming the good news.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.