There is a saying that goes “you always remember your ‘firsts’ even the ones you wish you could forget.” We know from experience that these first-time experiences do not have a time limit. Twenty-three years on after my ordination, I can still remember vividly the first public Mass that I had to celebrate and preach. I remember not only the contents of the homily but also the emotional feelings that accompanied me not just on that particular day but also in the days leading up to it. I am sure many of us will remember many other significant events in our faith journey. There are the “significant milestones”, either good or bad, that somewhat helps us navigate through life in later years.
Our gospel today (Mark 1:14-20) presents Jesus’ very first sermon as He begins His public life. The very first sermon of Jesus as presented by Mark in this gospel is significant because we will hear the blueprint for Jesus’ ministry. The core of Jesus’ sermon is repentance and the purpose for repentance is that the ‘kingdom in at hand’.
Jesus’ call to repentance is more than just asking His audience to make a confession of their sins. The Greek word here is metanoia, which is a more radical demand for a total change of heart, a complete transformation of one’s life. In short, Jesus is calling for a radical decision for God. That is why most of the parables that Mark would include in his gospel will have Jesus challenging His listeners to respond to His message calling for a metanoia, for “the kingdom of God is close at hand”. In all of this, Jesus calls His listeners to believe, to have faith. Contrary to what many people would like to think, faith is not a process based on logic or reasoning but it a call to pattern our life to what Jesus proposes.
Many of you would remember in the 1990s the wristband which became a popular accessory for many Christian youth groups with the alphabets WWJD (What would Jesus do?) imprinted. It was a reminder to act in the way Jesus would do in the different situations of life. The call to repentance is indeed a call to emulate Jesus, to do what Jesus would do, and that is why right after proclaiming His first sermon, Jesus calls His first disciples. The call is not merely to follow or shadow Him but calling them to pattern their lives on Jesus – “I will make you fishers of men!” (Mark 1:17).
Today we celebrate Sunday of the Word of God, a day set aside to remind us of the integral and essential relationship between Jesus, the Word made flesh, a community of believers, and sacred Scripture. In order to pattern our lives on Jesus, merely following Jesus by virtue of our baptism is insufficient if there is no familiarity and imitation of the person of Jesus. The Bible (word of God) is not just meant to teach us information but also to reveal Jesus to us and more importantly, to help us encounter Him, and to radically pattern our lives on Him so that the kingdom that Jesus came to announce and establish, continues through each of us. In short, the word of God that we celebrate today, point us to Jesus and lead us into personal experience of God.
Many of us already follow Jesus but as we hear these words ‘Follow Me’, perhaps the invitation today is to go on a journey with Jesus. I would like to invite you to read the gospel of Mark, a chapter a day. It is the shortest of the 4 gospels as there are only 16 chapters and you would complete it in a little over two weeks. In order to help you pattern your life after Jesus, at the end of every chapter ask yourself these two questions: What example does Jesus set for me to follow? What did He teach me about how to live? I pray that you have a personal encounter with Jesus as you walk with Him. Amen.