Kingdom and Discipleship

In 2006 (Year B in the Sunday Lectionary cycle) the Gospel reading is usually from Mark. This is the shortest and earliest Gospel, written around A.D. 70, probably at Rome. Mark was the first to provide a narrative framework or plot for the traditional sayings and stories related to Jesus. He seems to have invented the literary genre known as gospel and was closely followed by Matthew and Luke.

Mark developed his narrative according to geographical and theological principles: Galilee as the place of the manifestation of Jesus’ power as a teacher and healer (1:14–8:21); the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem as the occasion for Jesus’ teaching about the cross and what it means to follow him (8:22–10:52); and his ministry in Jerusalem and his passion, death, and resurrection there (11:1–16:8). The Markan passage for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (1:14-20) introduces the two great themes of Mark’s Gospel: the kingdom of God and discipleship. Thus it contains the whole Gospel of Mark in miniature.


The idea of God as king over all creation was part of ancient Israel’s faith. Many Old Testament psalms celebrate the kingship of God by proclaiming at their outset, “The Lord is king.” Much of the resistance to establishing a monarchy in Israel was due to the perception that Israel’s real king is the Lord Yahweh.

And yet around the time of Jesus, after the repeated failures by Israel’s human kings, there developed the hope that God would soon manifest his kingship in an especially dramatic way. When the fullness of God’s kingdom becomes manifest, all creation will acknowledge Yahweh as Lord and join in the eternal chorus of praise. Then there will be the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment, where the righteous will be vindicated and the wicked punished. Then there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This is what we mean when we pray, “Thy kingdom come!”

Jesus seems to have shared the belief of his Jewish contemporaries that the fullness of God’s kingdom is in the future. But he also saw in his own time, indeed in his own person and ministry, the inauguration of the reign of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand” (1:15). In Jesus’ preaching and healing activities God’s kingdom is already breaking in. It is fair to describe Jesus as the presence of God’s kingdom. Where he is, there is the kingdom of God.

Discipleship is the appropriate response to Jesus’ proclamation and enactment of God’s kingdom. The second part (1:16–20) of today’s Gospel text tells about the call of the first disciples, two sets of brothers who are fishermen. The story contains many wonderful themes: Jesus’ encounter with people in their ordinary lives, the attractiveness of the caller, the total and generous response to the call, and so on. But the two greatest aspects of discipleship in Mark are being with Jesus and sharing in his mission. Disciples are invited to be with Jesus on a great spiritual journey and to share in Jesus’ mission of proclaiming God’s kingdom in word and deed.

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