Repent

2021.01.24

Mk 1:14-20

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.

You’ve heard this Gospel passage many times, I’m sure.  It’s where Jesus called his first Disciples, the first of the 12 of his closest followers, who became the primary teachers after Jesus ascended into heaven.  The distinction between the two words is very important.  A Disciple a learner; an Apostle is one who is sent forth, primarily to teach and convert.  Disciples can also be sent forth, as Jesus sent 70 disciples out two by two.  As we see by the Acts of the Apostles, they weren’t sent two by two, but fulfilled important roles individually.

When I read this Gospel passage, I was always struck by the fact that Jesus called his first disciples two by two, two sets of brothers, in fact, in Andrew and Simon, and then James and John.  And they were found along the same pathway that Jesus was walking along.  What’s amazing to most people about this passage is that all four men simply left their livelihood right as soon as they were called.  I’ll bet Zebedee was highly upset that his sons just up and left him and the family business.

But then I heard what the word “Repent” comes from.  I used to think it meant to be sorry for the wrong one has done, or to atone for sin.  But it doesn’t.  It mean to “rethink.”  Even in today’s First Reading, God wanted to destroy Nineveh, and sends Jonah there to warn the people to “Repent, and believe in the good news.”  The Gospel tells us that Nineveh was a very large city…about a 3-day journey.  That’s about 60 miles…which is comparable to the size of Houston, TX and its suburbs.  Interestingly, scientists have determined that it would take an asteroid 60 miles in diameter to wipe out all life on earth (Source: https://www.insidescience.org/video/how-big-does-asteroid-have-be-destroy-all-life).  The reading from the Book of Jonah continues to tell us that because the King and people put on sackcloth to acknowledge their sinful ways, God “repented.”  That doesn’t mean that God was sorry.  It means that God “rethought” his retribution, and spared the city.

Repent means to “Rethink,” or even “Do something different.”  Clearly, the four men mentioned in today’s Gospel had heard of Jesus, His message, and what people may have been saying about Him and his cousin John (note all the family connections that keep happening).  Therefore, when Jesus comes to Galilee and says, ““This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel,” the fishermen may have been already thinking about how fishing was their life.  Perhaps they wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what they could do, since all they knew was fishing.  Perhaps they heard that the Kingdom of God was at hand and thought, “Yes!  No more going out in the boat every day, bringing back the catch, mending the nets, going to sleep and then getting up the next day to…do it all over again.”

When Jesus told them to repent, he validated their desire to do something different.  They were first open to hearing what God was calling them to do.

Since we’re still at the start of a new year, perhaps we’re being called to do something new as well.  As Lent nears (it’s only a couple of weeks away), we’ll hear the message “repent” again on Ash Wednesday (“Turn away from sin and believe the good news”) and again all throughout the season.  The question is, will we be like Samuel in the first reading from last Sunday who said, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” when we hear Him call, and then do what He asks us to do?

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