Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) (21 January 2024)

Gospel for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) (21 January 2024)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

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.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—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 (Mark 1:14-20 – NRSV).

Introductory notes


Both Matthew and Luke use this text from Mark in their own Gospels – see Matthew 4:12-17 and Luke 4:14-15.

The text begins in v.14 with a transition statement. Such transition statements appear frequently in Mark – see for example 1:21 (“They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught”), 1:28 (“At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee”), 2:1-2 (“When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them”) and 4:1-2 (“Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables”).

The transition is from the ministry of John the Baptist to the ministry of Jesus. “After the prologue with its heavy christological thrust, this first public act of Jesus in summoning people to follow him is an indication that Jesus’ work as ‘the stronger one’ (1:7) who proclaims the good news of God will involve other people in a most radical sense. This pericope with its location in Galilee, its mention of Peter and other followers, and especially the picture of Jesus ‘going before’ the disciples (1:16–17) provides an arch to the concluding verses of the gospel, ‘Go, tell Peter and his disciples that he is going before you to Galilee’ (proagei, 16:7).

“All major sections of Mark begin with stories involving disciples. This first call becomes a paradigm for the subsequent call narratives (2:13–15; 3:13–19; 6:6b–13), consisting of the following elements: (1) the initiative is from Jesus; (2) those called are engaged in ordinary work; (3) the call is in the form of a clear summons to ‘follow me’; (4) the call is to share in the mission or activity of the one calling; (5) the response to the call is immediate and unreflective, with a ‘leaving’ of former occupations; and (6) responding to the call is not a private choice, but means joining others who have responded as well. After this initial call, the subsequent calls develop even more the mission aspect. According to 3:13–19 the disciples are to ‘be with Jesus’ and to be sent out to preach and ‘to have authority’ over demons. In 6:6b–13 they are explicitly itinerant missionaries and, like Jesus, are to preach repentance (see 1:4, 14), to exorcise, and to heal the sick. Two essential elements in the call to discipleship are ‘being with’ Jesus and doing the tasks of Jesus. Dramatic tension in the gospel will arise from whether disciples will ‘be with’ Jesus at all stages and whether they will take up their cross as Jesus did. See 8:31–38, which functions like a ‘call narrative’ inaugurating the second major part of the gospel” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002, 76-77).


the good news of God: Apart from 1 Pet 4:17, this expression is used only by Mark and Paul (see 1 Thess 2:2, 9; 3:2; Rom 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7). Mark has already used this expression in 1:1-8: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. “The gospel of which Mark speaks is not a book, as it is for Matthew (1:1, ‘A record [Gk. biblos ] of the genealogy of Jesus Christ’). Rather, for Mark the gospel is the story of salvation in Jesus. The word for ‘gospel’ (Gk. euangelion) literally means ‘good news.’ In both the OT and in Greek literature euangelion was commonly used of reports of victory from the battlefield. When the Philistines defeated the troops of Saul on Mt. Gilboa, ‘they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news (euangelizesthai) … among the people’ (1 Sam 31:9; see also 2 Sam 1:20; 18:19–20; 1 Chr 10:9). The messenger who brought the report was the deliverer of ‘good news’ (2 Sam 4:10; 18:26). Among the Greeks the term was used likewise of victory in battle, as well as of other forms of good news. In 9 b.c., within a decade of Jesus’ birth, the birthday of Caesar Augustus (63 b.c.–a.d. 14) was hailed as euangelion (pl.). Since he was hailed as a god, Augustus’s ‘birthday signaled the beginning of Good News for the world.’ In the Greco-Roman world the word always appears in the plural, meaning one good tiding among others; but in the NT euangelion appears only in the singular: the good news of God in Jesus Christ, beside which there is no other. The concept of ‘good news’ was not limited to military and political victories, however. In the prophet Isaiah ‘good news’ is transferred to the inbreaking of God’s final saving act when peace, good news, and release from oppression will be showered on God’s people (Isa 52:7; 61:1–3). For Mark, the advent of Jesus is the beginning of the fulfillment of the ‘good news’ heralded by Isaiah.

“If, as seems probable, Mark is the first evangelist, then he also inaugurates a new literary genre in applying the term ‘gospel’ to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. For Mark, the gospel refers to the fulfillment of God’s reign and salvation in the fullness of time (Isa 52:7; 61:1). In the appearance of Jesus in Galilee, a new age has dawned that requires repentance and faith. Mark’s written record of Jesus’ life is itself called a Gospel, and thus this same Jesus who overcame the grave in the resurrection from the dead is now the living Lord who is at work in the church and world, calling people to faith in the gospel. In Mark’s understanding, therefore, the gospel is more than a set of truths, or even a set of beliefs. It is a person, ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ The kingdom that God inaugurates is bodily present in Jesus of Nazareth.

“Jesus, whose name in Hebrew is a variant of ‘Yehoshua’ (Eng. “Joshua”), meaning ‘God is salvation,’ is defined in Mark’s prologue as the ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of God.’ … Son of God is a more complete title for Jesus’ person and mission than is Messiah, and is Mark’s blue chip title for Jesus, the chief artery of the Gospel. ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God’ (1:1) is the prologue, indeed the topic sentence, of Mark’s Gospel. It may even be considered the title of the Gospel, as long as it is not divorced from what follows, as the connection with John the Baptist in v. 2 evinces. In v. 1 Mark declares the essential content of the euangelion, the ‘good news.’ The Gospel of Mark is thus not a mystery story in which readers must piece together clues here and there to discover its meaning; nor is it a pedestrian chronicle of dates and places without purpose or significance; nor is it reducible to a mere system of thought. Rather, from the outset Mark announces that the content of the gospel is the person of Jesus, who is the Christ and Son of God. It is a brief confession of faith, the meaning of which will unfold only as the reader follows Mark’s presentation of Jesus in the Gospel” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002, 24-26).

The time is fulfilled: The Greek word translated as “time” here is Kairos. There is no exact English equivalent. The word Kairos carries the connotation of “proper” or “opportune” time. It may also suggest crisis – as in 13:33 (“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come”).

The kingdom of God: The Greek basileia – here translated as “kingdom” – presents the translator with a challenge. One scholar writes: “Translation is a problem here, and not simply because of the androcentric overtones of ‘king’. The word ‘kingdom’ is static and evokes a place where a king (or queen) rules. Greek basileia is more active and dynamic, with the nuance of the ‘reigning’ of God as well as a setting for that reign. ‘Kingdom’ is maintained here principally because of its important theological history. Though 1:15 may not provide the exact words of Jesus (some of the vocabulary suggests a post-Easter perspective, and Jesus taught in Aramaic in any case), the proclamation of the kingdom of God is generally admitted to be the heart of Jesus’ preaching in both word and deed. While the actual phrase ‘kingdom of God’ is infrequent in the ot and early Jewish literature, the image of God as king is strong, both in the course of history (e.g., Exod 15:11–13, 18; Num 23:21–23; Pss 2; 72; 89; 110; 145:11–12 [royal psalms]; Psalms 95–100 [possible enthronement psalms]), and at the consummation of history when God’s definitive reign will be established (Mic 2:12–13; 4:5–7; Isa 44:1–8; Zech 9:9–11; Zeph 3:14–20; Dan 2:44; 7:11–14; Ass. Mos. 10:1–25; Pss. Sol. 17:23–35)” (Donahue, J. R., & Harrington, D. J., op cit, 71).

repent: The Greek word is metanoeite – from the verb metanoeō. Again, translation is a challenge. Metanoeō literally means “change one’s mind”. It gets closer to the original meaning if we say “change one’s heart”. Jesus is calling for radical, inner transformation.

the Sea of Galilee: “The shores of the lake were heavily populated. It also served as a boundary between the heavily Hellenized eastern side (the Decapolis: see Mark 5:20; 7:31) and the mainly Jewish western cities. In Mark Jesus will journey frequently from side to side, symbolizing perhaps the mission to both Jews and Gentiles (see 4:35; 5:1, 21; 6:1, 34, 45, 53; 7:24, 31; 8:14, 22).” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, 74.)

Simon: In the beginning of his Gospel, Mark uses “Simon” instead of “Peter” – see 1:16, 29, 30, 36; 3:16. Thereafter – apart from the scene in the garden of Gethsemane in 14:37 – he calls him “Peter”. Simon is the second son of Jacob and Leah (Genesis 29:33). It is a popular name in Jewish history. Peter comes from the Greek Petra meaning “rock”, translating the Aramaic Cephas – a name that seems to have been coined by Jesus himself.

follow: The Greek word is deute which literally means “Come!” or even “Come here!”

I will make you fish for people: The use of the future tense here is significant. The fact of discipleship is not instantaneous. Discipleship itself implies lifelong learning. It is an unending journey. We should not be distracted by the use of the word “immediately” here. Discipleship is not just a decision with instantaneous effect, though it involves a decision repeatedly confirmed. The primary decision – initiative – and energy and vision come from Jesus. A gradual coming into communion with Him is the work of a lifetime.

Insignificant Galilee

In today’s Gospel – Mark 1:14-20 – we are told that “after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God”. Mark goes on to tell us that it is in Galilee that Jesus enjoys his greatest success – see Mark 1:28 & 3:7. It is also in Galilee that Jesus, following his death and resurrection, gathers his dispersed and defeated followers and re-commissions them for ministry – see Mark 14:28 & 16:7. Mark is clear: It is in Galilee, not Jerusalem, that Jesus sows the seeds of the kingdom of God. One scholar observes: “(Jesus) did not prepare for a missionary campaign, first against Jerusalem and then into the rest of the world; no, he remained in insignificant Galilee” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002, 44).

“Insignificant Galilee”! If we are to begin to understand the “good news” Mark is telling us, we must not look for its significance in geographical places, social status, moral teachings, religious observances or even miracles. Of course, each of these has some significance. After all, the “good news” is incarnated in a particular place and time, it is planted within a human reality and must grow within that human reality. But Mark has given us the key to the true significance of his message in the very first words of his Gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. The “good news” is Jesus himself! So, when Simon and Andrew, James and John, are called by Jesus, they follow him. He is the reason for and the focus of their life-changing decision.

This is such a simple and clear message, it is amazing that we so easily misrepresent it or even forget it altogether. How often, in the history of Christianity, we have sought the true significance of the “good news” elsewhere than in the person of Jesus. Power based in social and political control or financial security, have at times become more significant for us than Jesus.

Perhaps the crucial lesson of the “insignificance of Galilee”, is the paradox that what human beings regard as significant is not significant in the eyes of God and what human beings regard as insignificant is significant in the eyes of God. Fidelity to the Gospel will be built on our relationship with Jesus. Without him, what is significant? With him, everything can be significant!

In 1970, Pope Paul VI, whilst visiting the Philippines, reminded us all: “Jesus Christ: you have heard him spoken of; indeed the greater part of you are already his: you are Christians. So, to you Christians I repeat his name, to everyone I proclaim him: Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega; he is the king of the new world; he is the secret of history; he is the key to our destiny. He is the mediator, the bridge, between heaven and earth” (Homily, Philippines, Manila, Sunday, 29 November 1970).