Reflections for Third Sunday
The first reading and today’s gospel call us to widen our horizons and reset our priorities. Jonah is called to widen his horizons about God and people and Mark’s Jesus invites us to set about participating in God’s Reign, resetting our priorities which lead to social transformation. Jonah has written off a whole group of people. We can do that when we hurt, divide, separate, scapegoat or ignore people.
For Jesus there are no God-forsaken places or people even though people like Donald Trump, and our leaders, can say we do not want people coming to our country from S***hole countries. For Pope Francis, the peripheries are places of possibility. As he writes in Let us Dream: ‘This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities—what we value, what we want, what we seek—and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of. God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labour. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.’
Francis says that we need to go to the edges of existence to see the world as it is. Jonah was not drawn to such places. By becoming flesh, God chose to go to the margins – the places of sin, misery, exclusion and suffering, illness and solitude, and chooses the unlikely to proclaim the good news – women, children, the poor, the victims of society and even ‘sinners’. Jonah was changed by the people he was sent to when they unexpectedly responded positively to his harsh message. God touched Jonah’s heart through the Ninevites and he came to see the true heart of God. The story of Jonah is an outrageous story about God’s mercy. God is not interested in crime and punishment and the binaries of good and bad. This reluctant prophet, like many believers, thought that God had the same prejudices and hates as they do whether it be gay and lesbian people, Muslims, people living with addictions. As Jonah learned about mercy, our call is to allow Jesus to open our hearts to God’s love and demonstrate God’s kindness to others in work for justice and peace.
The God of Jesus invites us to metanoia: genuine faith in a hope-filled vision of what God desires for creation. Metanoia, the Greek word for ‘repent’, means to rethink, reorient, reconsider. Jesus calls to us for a rethink of how to order society by reassessing our values where the vulnerable are placed at the centre and the wealthy and elite find liberation. Mark provides us with little of Jesus' preaching. His intention is to demonstrate that Jesus' actions embodied God's reign. Jesus came to catch us in the dynamic of his life and repentance or ‘metanoia’ expresses that. It was not about being sorry for sin but as Sr. Mary McGlone says, letting our minds be blown away by unimagined possibilities. 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.
In 2020, our eyes were opened to wider groups of people proclaiming the gospel: railway station attendants, bus drivers, teachers, hospital cleaners, waiters, bartenders, doctors, nurses, parents, neighbours, and complete strangers. Their commitment and generosity gave us glimpses of the God of ‘second chances’. When Nathaniel said last week, ‘what good can from Nazareth?’ we might ask what good can come from people who are lesbian and gay? people who are Indigenous Australians? homeless people who show great kindness, care and support to one another? God continues to send men and women towards Nineveh. Today, Nineveh is found among in the back-streets and lanes festering with prostitution, drug and crime; or, found in the corporate establishments that determine the destinies of the majority of people without care for their interests and welfare; or, found in diocesan offices where decisions are made without considering the messiness and pain people live with; or, it might be the politician whose policies are reprehensible and inhumane; or, even the community or family member whose self-centredness, lack of consideration or even bullying makes life difficult. Loving the enemy means going to Nineveh. Today Nineveh may even be Iran, China and 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 these ‘hopeless’ cases are not hopeless. That is the message of Nineveh today.
Our world needs prophetic voices that speak up and confront the oppressive powers of our world. Being prophetic comes at a cost as John the Baptist discovered. 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. He understood the cost of prophetic ministry but was not afraid to confront contemporary oppressive powers and demand they stop oppressing the most vulnerable. Like Jesus, Romero invited the most unexpected people to an alternative way—the way of Jesus’ reign. He offered an alternative way to both the poor and their oppressors - to repent and to believe that Jesus’ reign way is the way of love. Our world today is not unlike the world of Jesus or Romero. We still have dysfunctional systems, even religious systems. We still have a great gap between rich and poor. Exploitation of children’s bodies, black bodies, and female bodies continues. 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 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 scribes and Pharisees were upset when Jesus befriended ‘sinners’. We have witnessed the opposition to Pope Francis when God’s mercy comes before rules, when he advocates for asylum seekers, and listens to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth – the messy places. 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 less to those who appear lost and wayward but to us, God’s family, to welcome sinners and love them as God loves them. Pope Francis has begun a revolution. He has changed the conversation in the church by directing us towards the mercy of God which is the gate that opens a way for others to enter the community.
With 2020 behind us, we cannot go back to normal. We have to create a new future. We cannot continue to prioritise and privilege some and marginalise the many - with white people over people of colour; men over women; the rich over the poor; the cleric over the lay person; those defined as ‘straight’ and ‘cis’ over those identifying as LGBTQ. We cannot be silent when people are still judged and marginalised in any way. Each one of us, made in the image and likeness of God, worthy and deserving. Jesus is saying, as does Pope Francis, that with a revolution of the heart and together we create a different world. Let us imagine or dream of a world where people matter over power, privilege, property, and profit. 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 1:1