Third Sunday of the Year
The presence of the incarnate word
shines at the heart of all creation.
Teilhard de Chardin sj
The readings from Jonah and Mark call us to widen our horizons and reset our priorities. We see that people designated outsiders, even enemies, can be more ready to recognize and respond to God than those who consider themselves God’s People. The call is to be open to the wisdom and goodness of those designated different.
Jonah had to broaden his horizons about God and people and Jesus also invites us to reset our priorities which lead to social transformation. Jesus’ words ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news’ contain his only preaching in Mark’s early chapters. In his words and actions, we are reminded that the God of Jesus disrupts, interrupts, and breaks into our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways to call us to deeper love and more committed discipleship. These few words are at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus' announcement of the nearness of the reign of God was not once and for all. It manifests a web of relationships that continually grow and draw us more and more into a oneness with God, neighbour, and Creation. Everything Jesus said and did put flesh on this message.
Jonah had written off a whole group of people as Palestinian people have been in the eyes of many because of blindness, misinformation, neglect, and silence. They have been scapegoated, but as we look at Jesus there are no God-forsaken places or people. As we view a genocide before our eyes, the Palestinian response has opened our eyes to their compassion, resilience, and possibility. In Let us Dream, Pope Francis says that we need to go to the edges of existence to see the world as it is – places that Jonah, and many of us, are not drawn to. By becoming human, God chose to go to the margins. God could not go to any place other than Palestine facing misery, exclusion, suffering, illness and solitude in order to proclaim the good news. ‘Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol’ (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel). Jonah was changed by the people he was sent to. His heart was touched through the Ninevites which enabled him to see the true heart of God. We have here an outrageous story about God’s mercy. Like many believers, Jonah thought that God had the same prejudices and hates as himself which we project on gay and lesbian people, Muslims, people of colour, people living with addictions. We see the least expected person in Jonah and fisherfolk becoming agent of change in God’s hands. It is the lowly, the marginalised, or the most ordinary of people who are invited into the picture – even people like the Samaritan woman or Zacchaeus. Evidence of prior belief, or piety, or social status is not required. All that is required is willingness, even if marginal. Pope Francis keeps emphasising that God’s Reign is not a closed club for perfect people but a space where all can be transformed by love, service, and inclusion. But, things can get in the way as many people find the doors guarded by people who will not let them in. They are shamed and demeaned because they do not fit in - as with LGBTIQ+ people. The miracle is that these same people remain and call us to ‘trust God, go deeper into the Eucharist, and be a light for others. Maybe we will all be surprised at what we find!’ Jesus’ call to come is comprehensive. No one is left out. All are welcome: the arrogant, humble, haughty, poor, self-righteous, saintly, educated, divorced, attractive, unchurched, well-connected, and so many more. There is no list of qualifications of eligibility. The call to those who appear the most implausible serve as a powerful reminder that we are all the least likely.
Jesus' call to repentance (metanoia), was an invitation to take on a new mindset. It was not about sin as much as believing that God’s reigning presence was about moving towards unity in love - and is already happening. Unfortunately, when we hear the word ‘repentance’ many hear moralising. It is less about cleaning up one’s act and more about changing one’s mind, changing one’s direction, and changing one’s heart. And, from the Greek, it implies continual action. It is not something once and for all. The beauty of our faith is that is gets to be a continual action because is Jesus is constantly calling us with love – away from the status quo, away from being hypnotised by lies and misinformation about others, way from self-interest, away from self-righteousness, and away from self-loathing. Part of the good news is that our call to repent and believe contains no upper limit to the times we change our minds or change our hearts or change direction. There is no ‘three times and you are out!’ Jesus’ call is always beyond ourselves and reassessing our values where the vulnerable find themselves at the centre and the wealthy and elite hopefully find liberation. Jesus was inviting us to believe that God was about to do something entirely new and wonderful — and we can all participate in that. ‘Metanoia’ is all about hope and a new vision of life where God can break into our present. As Pope Francis says, it is the stuff of dreams that only God's spirit can inspire — and it is ongoing.
During the height of the Covid 19 pandemic, we came to see people who are often not noticed: railway station cleaners and attendants, bus drivers, teachers, hospital cleaners, waiters, bartenders, doctors, nurses, parents, neighbours, and people of other faiths who rose to the occasion to serve and care. Through their commitment and generosity, we saw glimpses of God’s presence. When Nathaniel said last week, ‘what good can from Nazareth?’ we might just look at the people of Gaza and the West Bank who are disrupting our views about people? We could ask that about so many people who show great kindness, care, and support to one another. Loving the enemy means going to ‘Nineveh’ which may be Iran, China or Cuba. Jonah was not sent to the people of Israel who were already believers. Neither are we. We are to bring the Good News to unimaginable places and ‘impossible’ situations. The good news is that there are no hopeless cases. That is the message of Nineveh today.
Our world needs prophetic voices that speak up and confront the oppressive powers of our world. Jesus’ prophetic ministry took him to unpopular places and people to encounter people where they were located. Óscar Romero understood the urgency of communicating the nearness of God’s reign and the cost of that prophetic ministry by confronting contemporary oppressive powers and demand they stop oppressing the most vulnerable. As we watch a genocide live before our eyes of a largely forgotten people in the recent past, how can we be silent and not be in solidarity with these people. Silence equals death, as we heard from the HIV/AIDS campaigns. It is still true. Silence is not golden but yellow. There are alternatives to these tragic realities that dehumanise God’s people. Dorothy Day once said: ‘The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.’ That inner revolution often begins with our response to a new and ongoing invitation.
Jesus came to inaugurate a ‘new age’ which we are called to continue. It comes when we go beyond ourselves and refuse to yield to the status quo or to what is comfortable, act generously towards another, work for peace rather than inflame divisive situations. The opposition continues to Pope Francis who prioritises God’s mercy over rules, who advocates for asylum seekers, and who listens to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth. The greatest obstacle to the church becoming more and more a community of grace and mercy is not from people who reject God but religious people who reject ‘the other’ and cannot imagine sharing the same space or table with them. The gospel challenge is to us rather than those who appear lost and wayward. Pope Francis has begun a revolution by directing us towards the mercy of God which is the gate or door that opens a way for others to enter the community.
With 2023 behind us, we have to create a new future. We cannot continue to prioritise and privilege a few and marginalise the many whether in society and certainly not the church. We cannot be silent when people are marginalised. Each one of us, made in the image and likeness of God, worthy and deserving. Jesus is saying, as does Francis, that with a revolution of the heart together we can create a different world. It involves a radically new way of thinking about redistributing resources with values of compassion, justice, equity, and concern for the safety, well-being, and thriving of those the present system leaves vulnerable to harm. This vision is of a world of social structures rooted in love for all and Mark’s gospel is suggesting that when we start with love, a just future ‘has come near’ (Mark 1:15).