Editor’s note: This is the fifth post in a series commenting on the first words of Christ as presented in the Gospels.
The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel. (Mk 1:14)
Believe in the Gospel. With this sentence, Jesus directs our attention away from a physical, earthly kingdom. Instead, Jesus establishes a new location where we can build our lives. His Good News is the only truly durable place where we have perfect security. The human heart is on the watch for one unassailable bit of territory, one haven of definitive safety from the seismic experience of life on earth. The Gospel requires the response of faith from us. Christ demands, in this announcement, that we hitch our expectations to him. If we rely solely on our own flawed and incomplete judgments of property value, we’ll have a flimsy happiness.
It’s a relief to be invited onto this piece of solid ground, seeing as the other places we were thinking about establishing a household are quite unsound: the water table was too high, the soil was full of clay, or it was used as a landfill twenty years ago. Looking around and being somewhat savvy, we thought we might find seemingly reliable patches: safe neighborhoods, in-network doctors, or post-graduate degrees. But it’s a mistake to place our faith there.
Criminals get creative, premiums rise, and bubbles burst. What then? Even if we’re responsible, devastating things can happen. And after a year like 2016, who is going to gainsay that? What notion of safety or permanence is left for residents of Aleppo or Berlin?
Only what Christ gives remains. Only he has the capacity to carry the human person all the way through disaster. He is the only light we have left when all other lights go out. His friendship, teaching, and flesh have carried the saints, canonized and uncanonized, through terrible difficulties. Our young 21st century has already furnished some examples.
Of course, if you’re as savvy as Aristotle, Plato, or Stephen Hawking, perhaps you can cobble together a quasi-stable happiness apart from the Gospel. Even that, though, is wobbly in life and ends at death.
If we’re average mortals—as most of us are, statistically—we’re grateful that we have someone in whom we can place absolute trust: Jesus of Nazareth. Such trust would of course be crazy and irresponsible if he weren’t God. And he revealed, strangely generous fellow that He Is, the principles and habits we can base our lives on. We are here at the beginning of Ordinary Time. And Christ has yet to offer all the proofs of his messiahship, of his divinity: walking on water, raising the dead, forgiving sins, or healing leprosy. Now, at the very beginning, is the time of the solitary announcement. Jesus’s activity is not yet visible to his public.
This very beginning of Ordinary Time is like the time we live in. We have heard the announcement of the Gospel at some point. If we were born in America or Western Europe, it’s difficult not at least to have heard of the claims of Christianity. But we don’t feel the power of His Speech yet. It has not yet come close and transformed the lives of so many of our contemporaries, or maybe even of ourselves.
In part, this is because the words of the Lord endure so much competition. There are other locales we like. “He’s great, but I’d hate to put all my eggs in one basket,” runs one way of thinking. We began this meditation on Jesus’s arrival with an image of solid ground. To amplify the image, perhaps a contrast with its opposite would suffice. We can tend to live in multiple places half-heartedly. Then we end up as bland citizens of the world: rootless, without a stable and enduring love. Such a citizen bounces from one monochromatic baggage claim to another. At the end of his life, he will regret not giving his love to one place—like Dante lamenting over Florence or Jeremiah over Jerusalem. Let’s look to that one piece of territory that is unassailable, beautiful, and worthy of all our love—Christ in his proclamation of the Gospel.
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Call to Conversion (used with permission)