The voice of John the Baptist is now silenced behind prison walls. It is time for Jesus to begin his mission. He leaves his home and work in Nazareth and settles initially in Capernaum, a lakeside town not too far away. There he begins his preaching with a short but challenging message. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Referring to a kingdom might suggest territorial domination so it is probably better to speak of the reign of God as an expression of personal following rather than political power.
The dream of Jesus
Jesus had a dream for our world. He dreamt of life on earth being a mirror of heaven. Towards the realisation of his dream, he began to tell the people that there is another way. Instead of the nightmare of constant wars, he spoke of brothers and sisters in the one family of God.
Instead of bitterness and retaliation, he spoke of a love that refuses to be poisoned and even prays for the oppressor. In place of the spectre of famine which will always haunt a greedy, selfish world, he set up the practical criterion of how we feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
In the murky world of deeds of darkness, he wanted all of life to be a clear reflection of the light of heaven. He prayed that the will of the Father would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
So, when Jesus began to tell the people that there is another way, his first word, repent, was about thinking in a new way, and letting go of the old, sinful way of life. Repent … ponder in a new light … let go of the old hatreds … put on a new mind … enter a new set of values … be born again of water and the Holy Spirit. This is nothing less than a revolution turning a value system upside down like the revolution of a wheel. Pope Francis called it a revolution of tenderness.
The Sermon on the Mount
Nowhere is this revolution of values and ideals expressed so clearly as in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, Chapters 5-7). It begins with the Beatitudes, which Pope Francis calls the identity card of a Christian. The audience that Jesus addressed believed that the signs that a person was blessed by God were prosperity, power, prestige and popularity (according to Albert Nolan, a South African Dominican, recently deceased). Jesus turned these standards upside down. For Jesus, the signs of the blessed were a lack of desire for prosperity, with gentleness in place of power, working for justice and peace, people who are pure in heart so that they see God’s presence, and the spiritual strength of those who stand firm even when they are persecuted on account of their faith.
Jesus began to proclaim his dream. There is another way. The world is meant to be a mirror of God’s justice, compassion and love. To realise the dream, we must let worldly values be turned upside down. We must repent, we must think again.
The taskforce of the dream
Dreaming about a better future is not much use unless there is a plan and taskforce for its implementation. Immediately after announcing the reign of God, Jesus called four fishermen to leave their nets to follow him. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
The brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, felt the call of Jesus so strongly that they immediately left their jobs and family. They were the first members of the taskforce called to implement the dream of Jesus for the world. Later this taskforce acquired the Greek name, ekklesia, which literally means people who are called out. The Gaelic name, eaglais, derives from ekklesia, but unfortunately the English word church, comes from kirk, referring to the building rather than the people who are called. The taskforce for implementing the dream of Jesus would be this Church or ecclesia.
Mission and maintenance
It is significant that of the first four to receive the call, two were casting nets and two were mending nets: mission and maintenance, the twin arms of the apostolate. Mission goes out to those not yet in Christ’s net. Maintenance involves the routine tasks of serving those who already are disciples. Catholic evangelisation has been compared to a fisherman waiting for a fish to jump into a boat! Mind you, it can happen. One day I had sea trout hooked. Coming close to the boat the fish made a wonderful leap, escaped from the hook … and landed at my feet!
The world today is becoming increasingly secular. Sadly, there are many who are nominally Christian but are far from the ideals of the gospel. On the other hand, there are people who belong to no particular Church but are deeply committed to justice, peace, caring for the sick and sharing with the poor. As St Augustine expressed it, there are many in the Church who do not belong to the kingdom, while there are many in the kingdom who do not belong to the Church.
Pope Francis said that Jesus wants evangelisers who proclaim the Good News not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence. The charity of works is the unmistakeable proof of the charity of words.
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come in the light of your Word made flesh
And with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Renew the heart of the Church, renew the face of the Earth.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.
Fr Silvester O’Flynn’s book, Gospel Reflections and Prayers is available to purchase at Columba Books.