The message of Jesus is simple.
The gospel writers agree that it can be boiled down to two sentences. They are the words that Jesus proclaimed as he traveled through Galilee:
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the good news.
These words may be simple, but their meaning is deep. And applying these words to our lives is anything but easy.
Today’s gospel, however, gives us some pointers for understanding the meaning of his words and how they are meant to change our lives.
Jesus appears in Galilee for the first time walking the countryside preaching the good news. On the shores of the Lake of Tiberias he calls simple fishermen to follow him. They drop everything to answer his call.
The immediate and wholehearted response of these men and of so many others who will follow their example teaches us what it means to repent and believe in the good news. It means encountering the person of Jesus, following him and leaving everything behind.
First, believing in the good news means having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. The apostles did not leave their families, homes and jobs because they believed in an idea or wanted to live an ideal. Rather it was their encounter with Jesus that moved them. Meeting Jesus changed everything for them. Throughout the gospels people are moved by him because they felt the power of his words and experienced his love for them. But more than anything it is meeting Jesus that changes hearts and heals souls.
In our day we cannot have the same face to face encounter that the apostles enjoyed. But we still are able to meet the Risen Lord when we read the Bible which is his word, when we receive the Sacraments which are the continuation of his healing work in the Church and in our sisters and brothers who are his living body. We are not on fire for our faith or passionate about our Church because we like to follow rules. Rather it is because we have met and fallen in love with Jesus Christ. This personal relationship with him that we have through faith and the ministry of the Church drives everything that we are about. It is already ours through baptism. But if we want to understand it more fully and to make it the driving force in our lives, we only need to ask Jesus to help us, and he will make it clear to us in some way.
And so, believing in the good news means, first of all, having a personal encounter with Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus’ message means that we must follow him. Our life of faith can be understood as a journey with Jesus leading the way. It means that, like the apostles, we have to give up our own plans for how we will live our life and put our trust in God and his plan for us. It is not easy because very often the road is steep and the pathway rocky. We will not always see where it is headed, and we will stumble frequently along the way. We will see our friends walking a different way that seems easier, and we will be tempted to join them. But God will give us the strength and the courage to follow him. And we will be blessed with joy because we are with Jesus.
And so, believing in the good news means, following Jesus, walking the same road he walked and letting him set the itinerary for our lives.
Thirdly, believing in the good news means leaving everything behind. The apostles could not follow Jesus and stay fishermen. They had to make a choice. We cannot follow Jesus and continue to live the same way we did before. When we choose to follow Jesus, some things will have to stay behind. We may have to end friendships because they lead us to bad behavior. We may have to change our business practices because they are deceitful. We will all be called to live simpler lives so that we will have more left over to give to the poor. Some will even be called to sell everything and to give their lives totally over to Jesus in religious life. For all of us, gaining Jesus will mean the loss of something or someone we love. It was that way for the apostles, and it continues to be that way for us. There is no other way if we are to put our lives in the hands of our loving Father.
However, there is nothing in this world that can compare with knowing, loving and serving God. Any possession we have will eventually become useless. Most of our friendships will come to an end. But we will have God forever. Nothing else in this world can give us the fulfillment that God can. That is why, no matter how painful it might be, Christians throughout the centuries have gladly abandoned jobs, possessions and even their homelands for the joy that only comes from following Jesus. If there is something or someone in our lives that is keeping us from following Jesus with all our hearts, we must pray for the grace to let it go. Otherwise, we cannot fully know the peace that only God can give.
The Kingdom of God is among us. The Risen Lord is present in our midst. His presence soothes our fears. His words touch and heal our hearts. His Body and Blood nourishes and strengthens us. We meet him in one another, and we fall in love with the one who died for us. We gladly leave everything behind to follow after the one our heart longs for. Despite the difficulties, we know that it is the path of life. We walk with ever growing strength because we have met Jesus and our lives can never be the same.