Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
John the Baptist has to be disposed of in this story. In early Christian politics, it needed to be very clear that Jesus was the chosen one, not John. So John is very clearly removed from the scene ,as a way of emphasising the subordinance which is placed in his mouth, when he says he is not worthy to untie the sandal of Jesus. But theologically, there is a message here, too. John is the end of the era. John ends, then Jesus comes. It is significant in the counter cultural thrust of this story that John does not just leave, or retire. He is arrested by the ruling powers of the land. John is imprisoned by Jerusalem.
The time is fulfilled; now is the time. We are left in no doubt that Jesus is about to begin something new. The new thing is that God's realm has come near. This is a time of new opportunity.
We are told to repent, to turn again, to change completely, and go another way in order to believe in the Good News. Very early in Mark, it is clear that this whole thing is not about head knowledge. It is not about some kind of intellectual assent. It is about action. To believe in the good news means to act. There is a political agenda here. It is always possible debate to exactly how one lives out faith, but it must be lived. Repentance is an action, a lived deed, not an intellectual assent, or even a cautious statement we might make today, such as "I believe so...."
For myself, there is something confronting about Mark. I am cautious. I am ambivalent, conservative, always considering and rethinking. This gospel calls for a decision. Whatever your uncertainty, it says, you must repent. You have to make a decision. There is only one side to be on. You cannot be a contemplative bystander. You either repent, or you don't. The time for this decision is now! Which side will you be on?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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