Thursday, January 19, 2012

The New Social Order That Jesus Began to Establish for His People

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Third Sunday of Year B, Mark 1:14-20, January 22, 2012.

IF CHIEF JUSTICE Corona is on trial at the Impeachment Court, this is due to the vision of President Aquino to help create a Filipino society that is free of a culture of corruption, especially at the top, and of a culture of impunity. Leaders and prophets usually envision for their people a form of society that addresses the pains and sufferings of the present and immediate past. To be sure, at all levels of life—international, national, local and even personal--we all experience the negative: oppression, deceit, fear, destruction, war, suffering and death. Because of these negative experiences, we all wish to construct a better world. After the war of the allied forces against Iraq, George Bush spoke of establishing a new order. After the exile of the Jews, Isaiah had a vision of a new earth. During the industrial revolution, Karl Marx posited a classless society where the poor will come into their own. At the personal level, most of us try to achieve our vision of our own future: secure, full of milk and honey. Knowing that, in a sense, this is not the best of all possible worlds, and that a better world is possible, we try to envision it and put that vision into some concrete programs.

Today's Gospel is about Jesus' proclamation of a new social order: the Kingdom of God. In the Old Testament, this order is captured, among others, by the symbol of a new Jerusalem where God tenders a banquet: "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines" (Isa 25:5). And Jesus sometimes used the same picture for the Kingdom: "And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:28-29). This image embodies what all of us hope for—love, brotherhood, forgiveness, peace and happiness among men in the community. This was the center of Jesus' preaching, his life and even his death. But this new social order was not just a dream; it was a reality that began to be realized in Jesus, in his life and ministry. Moreover, it was not simply an otherworldly reality. On the contrary, Jesus made it clear that the Kingdom was to be experienced in this world, in the here and now. And he invited us to be part of this social order.

But what are we to do in response to the invitation? To be part of it, we have to pay the price. Though it has broken through in Jesus, it will not spill over to us unless we take two steps: first, we need to repent, and second, we have to believe in Jesus and his Kingdom. Like Jonah who—according to the 1st Reading--preached repentance to the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4-5), Jesus required us to repent: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Repentance is more than just being sorry for our sins. The Greek word, metanoein, literally means "to change one's mind," but as in the New Testament, it is close to the Hebrew shubh, which means to turn about, to return to Yahweh, and this presupposes a deep understanding of the nature of sin (Joel 2:12-13). It is a 180 degrees turn-around: "Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil, learn to do good. Make justice your aim; redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow" (Isa 1:16-17).

Repentance, therefore, means the setting aside of the past and the embracing of a new life. To embrace a new life means to embrace a community life in discipleship. That is how we express our faith in Jesus. Discipleship of the community is the translation of our faith into deeds. The Kingdom of God will come if we respond to his invitation (Mark 1:17), and follow the requirements of discipleship: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34). In communal discipleship, our concern is the Kingdom of God and its values: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides: (Matt 6:33).

This demands reordering of our heart and affection, our purposes and goals, our priorities and loyalties in the community. Only if we are willing to pay the price can we participate in this new social order, in which people experience the positive in community life—love, brotherhood, forgiveness, justice and peace, as Jesus so promised: "Amen I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come" (Mark 10:28-30).

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