Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Third Sunday after The Epiphany, 2018.
We continue today with what is now the third Sunday gathering after The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Keeping this naming convention in our mind, it should be noted, is far more than a convention of utility: rather, it reminds us that this is the season for reflecting on all that has happened since the beginning of Advent. The Light of lights, who was prayed and hoped for, not only by Christians today, but by the people of God for centuries and even millennia before the Incarnation—this Light has entered the world in a way that is perceivable and recognizable. The Light of heaven came to us as a child born of a virgin, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
These Sundays after the Epiphany, then—if you like, “Epiphanytide”—are for the processing of this glorious and unfathomable event. As familiar as the story of the Incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus of Nazareth is to us, do we really know it? Its familiarity has made it normal for us, which is not wholly a bad thing—for it is a good thing that we know the narrative of our salvation without having to consult a book. We just know that people yearned for a Messiah, yearned for a God who would be with us; we just know that He was born of a virgin named Mary betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph—that the angels proclaimed His coming, and which drew shepherds, then wise men from the East to Him, and that His showing forth of Himself, His revealing of Himself as the Sacrament of God, was recapitulated at his Jewish baptism in the River Jordan, which also showed forth, if you think about it, the Holy Trinity Himself: the Son hearing the voice of the Father and being anointed by the Holy Spirit.
This is the true story of glory. These are the facts of God’s revelation of Himself. And yet, even in this telling, how strange it all is! How remarkable odd and even bizarre. It is good, I think, that the facts of our salvation make for a strange story, because then in coming back to this story year after year, there is always more to find, more prayer to invite, more ways we can read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God so that we can taste and see that the Lord is good.
We hear in from Saint Mark what is a classic passage from his Gospel. I mean classic is the sense that it reflects the characteristics so typical of Mark’s literary style. Mark uses a brisk narrative, and energetic style, and he always cuts to what is essential. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and say, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.” This is Jesus’s mature ministry in a nutshell. He picks up immediately where John the Baptizer left off, which means for us a continuity between John’s ministry and that of Jesus Christ: John also proclaimed the good news of God, indeed that the Messiah was coming to baptize with water and fire and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we learn that Jesus is a man of action, who comes to us and preaches. Mark leaves out all details except what He does—in everything Jesus does throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is preaching the Gospel, whether it is directly through sermons and teaching, or through his miraculous acts of healing, or through His death and resurrection. It is all the Gospel, and Jesus preaching is a preaching both of words and of actions.
And what did He preach? Here and always, He preached to answer two questions: What is the meaning of Himself? and what does His presence call us to do? To the first, he preached that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. This is God’s promise to us. Not as an idea, or concept, or sentiment, or wishful belief, but as a human male, God has come to us; God has made Himself known; God’s light, which is His nature and how He came into the world in the first place, and how the world itself was first created—God’s light, the light of heaven itself, is here, the promises of old have been kept, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus teaches His kingdom is not a place but a condition of living according to God’s will. That when we live according to His will, we participate here and now in a timeless state of being. Jesus in the flesh is a window to heaven, and it is a window that is not placed up high, but at our level, and it is a window we do not have to find: He comes to us.
And so the window to heaven came to Simon and Andrew, and then to James and John. They responded without pause, without guile, without argument. Because Jesus was the window to glory, because His presence shares eternity with those around Him, they showed forth marks of true discipleship for them and for us: recognizing His authority and responding without hesitation. And where were they, that Jesus came to them? By the sea, which in the Bible and even for us evokes a fearful place that strikes the imagination—there are monsters, sharks, and the sea itself while beautiful has also a destructive force. And in the Bible, a net is often used to speak of the snare set for human being, especially for the just. So Jesus came to them to pull people out of the sea: not to drag them in a net but to ensnare them in Himself, to draw people irresistibly to Him, be drawn out of a bad world, represented by the sea, and to free them from the powers of evil.
They were caught up into His net simply by beholding Him and by listening to Him. This is what it means to repent: to turn our hearts to Jesus, so that we can behold Him for Who He is, and hear Him for how He calls to us.