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.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Jesus said: the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.
For a third time we find ourselves in lockdown. The responsibility has been laid on our shoulders to keep within our households and mix as little as possible. As in previous periods of lockdown, this is not a matter of advice; this is a matter of obeying the law. Whether we feel the government has taken the right decision or not, we are obliged to accept their interpretation of the advice they have been given and stay at home as much as possible, and not mix with others at all. As in previous periods of lockdown, I have heard people speak of being ‘imprisoned’ and being treated as though they are ‘not responsible adults’. Such negative feelings are addressed directly by today’s reading.
The reading opens with the words: After John was arrested. John really was imprisoned, which was a very different thing from our being confined to the comfort of our own homes. In Middle Eastern countries, in the first century, prison cells were nothing more than deep holes in the ground. Each cell was between ten and twelve feet deep and rarely had enough floor space for the prisoner to lie down. Prisoners were lowered (or thrown) into the cell which was covered with a large stone. Prisoners were left, with no light, and little food for indeterminate periods of time. After John’s arrest, these are the conditions into which he was plunged. When we speak of the current lockdown in terms of ‘imprisonment’, we are speaking of something very different. We are speaking of our not being allowed to do exactly what we want, at the very moment we want to do it. We are not talking about a level of sensory and physical deprivation that has been designed to humiliate and incapacitate. We are being asked to adopt a communal way of living that protects ourselves and others.
Knowing what imprisonment by Herod really meant, we are told that Jesus’ response was to proclaim the good news of God. How often, when we are confronted with challenging and uncomfortable circumstances do we follow Jesus’ example? We might feel moved to say: Oh God! Why? or some other utterance of despair. But, how often is our response to praise and proclaim God, rather than blame him for what has ‘gone wrong’ in our lives? Jesus knew the conditions in which John was being kept; everyone in that time and place would have known the horrors of Herod’s dungeons, they had been well used for decades. And yet, Jesus said: the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
As we struggle with the challenge of another lockdown, we are called to set aside self-pity and recrimination; we are called, instead, to join Jesus in proclaiming the good news of God. God is with us wherever we may find ourselves, even the darkest and most dangerous of places. At such times Jesus wants us to truly engage with our faith by repenting, that is by following his path rather than our own. He wants us to hold firm in our belief in the good news that he came among us in person, and continues to journey with us. He wants us to never forget that the kingdom of God has come near.
Alongside all of this, I would also draw your attention to another word in today’s reading, a word that occurs twice. That word is immediately. Simon and Andrew, James and John responded to Jesus’ call in their lives immediately, that is without delay and hesitation. That is the challenge for us today … to proclaim the good news of God … immediately!