Saturday, January 23, 2021

Following the Lord Means God Becomes Focus of Our Attention

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 24 January 2021

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20


(Vocation of the Apostles, a fresco in the Sistine Chapel by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1481-82)
Please click here to listen to my audio reflections


We are living in a world where change is inevitable. People look for change not only in their lifestyle but also in the political life of the country. The euphoria of change is seen in its abundance at the wake of the corona pandemic which hit the world a year ago. From the Atlantic to the Indian ocean the world of politics has seen its change from a ranting boisterous president to a mild but a person of integrity in the person of Joe Biden. As the world breathes a sigh of relief with the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, the Catholic world must cheer.  Is it a change from the old self to a new self, or transformation of evil into good? We like to hear the word “change” often even though we may not be ready to embrace change in a radical way. We may accept changes theoretically but in practice, we might like to say let that change come later. In today’s world, we feel days pass by quickly and change occurs at great velocity. We have seen changes in our lives since the time we record our early stages of life. 

I. A change requires a commitment to a new way of life

The readings for this Sunday give us that tone of change. A change occurs in the life of those fishermen of Galilee to whom Jesus invites to join his company. Peter, Andrew, John, and James quickly move towards the side of Jesus. There is an urgency noticeable especially when Jesus called the sons of Zebedee. The Scripture says, “they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him” (Mk 1:20) In fact, they throw their future in the hands of someone whom they did not know. They leave behind their employees, family and friends. These brothers are the first apostles called to a new bond of love with Jesus building a church - a new family, based not on blood ties, but on belief in Jesus and a desire to do the Father’s will (John 1:12–13; Matthew 12:46–50). The disruptions caused to Jonah and to the first disciples were extremely demanding. How are we to respond? It is not so much 'to give up' everything and all human attachments, but 'to give them over' to God and his plan for us.

In such a short passage the word "immediately" is used twice referring its urgency, invitation, and challenge. The invitation of Jesus to these four does not follow with a prospectus or an application. In the call of Jesus, there are no recommendation letters required. The tone of Jesus is clear - the Kingdom of God is at hand. In Greek kingdom means Basileia and Jesus here does not elaborate what this is all about. Only, later on, they will have to see what he does with his hands and words, what he preaches and proclaims, the way he mentors them in his discipleship. First, he chooses 4 then 12 and later the whole world for the establishment of His Kingdom or the rule of God.  It is a Kingdom where all people are included and welcomed. 

True discipleship I believe requires one’s readiness to walk away from security and coziness. Therefore, it is difficult. The disciples of Jesus become part of the Jesus movement in bringing people to a new way of living in truth, love, freedom, and justice. They experienced new life in this change, from sitting in their boats and catching fish to sitting with Jesus and breaking of the bread and later breaking of his words to the people. They were able to dream beyond the waters of the lake of Galilee and see the visions of Jesus on Mount Tabor.

II. A sense of deep trust in the Lord

I believe that such a sudden change in the life of those Galileans is significant and we need to understand it symbolically: what does it mean to us? When you hear the good news or a call you just cannot keep it with yourself. Each person is blessed with some kind of vocation story. Some might have heard it very strongly in their hearts to do something that is throwing completely in the hands of God. There might be some incidents that have made our lives completely different. Even St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians writes that we cannot treat this world as just a reality (1 Cor 7:29-31). We cannot relate everything that is just outside of me that can be seen with my eyes as a reality. For us Christians, there is a meta-reality (meta means above or beyond) that is the existential experience of God. One of the best ways to experience that reality is the Eucharist that we celebrate. It is the practical way of seeing God in our midst. “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus says “there I am” (Mt 18:20). 

Eucharist is an activity of the community. As a community, we stand here and worship God. We stand before the Lord with a readiness to be transformed or changed through His presence. How will it take place? Many a time we must have heard "I pray," "I go to Mass every Sunday but still, there is no change in me." How often do we ask ourselves, how many times I have been visited by God in my life, in my activities, in my work, in my friends, in my family? Can you think about yourself that you are able to exist without God? That’s why Paul says to live our vocation whether it is married or unmarried life with devotion and responsibility. We are asked to prepare to receive God in our lives. 

III. Cultivating a virtue of total freedom and detachment in our lives

Paul asks the Corinthians to live in total freedom and detachment. Nothing is sure in this earthly reality, what you have today is gone by the next moment. In spite of having the best means of communication, Nobel prize-winning economists, still the savings that we put in our banks are not safer anymore. It all begins and ends within the security that comes from belonging to God and abandoning ourselves to his loving providence for each of us. The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand, is how today’s gospel reading opens. We are frail and wavering and somewhat in the dark, but God is not. Jesus on seeing James and John calls them immediately. He knows what he is doing and what is best for us.

Therefore the mystic St. Ignatius of Loyola writes in his Spiritual Exercises, to give the grace to accept richness or poverty, good health or bad health, long life or short life with complete freedom (Principle and Foundation No. 23). What is important finally in our lives are the core values that we need to cultivate, the values of the Kingdom of God: truth and love, freedom and justice. It is what we are that counts than what we have. Amidst the messiness and brokenness of this world, we may sometimes miss glimpses of the glory and power of our God. 

God continues to ask us to change. “A change of heart create in me O Lord,” the psalmist writes (Ps 51:10). Living our vocation as Christians is a call to each one of us. Am I ready for such an invitation of Jesus? What is that limits me to be aware of God’s presence and His call around me? Am I ready to embrace his call, through my nets and boats away? Do my personal relationships weary me out especially my anxieties and ambitions?  The purpose of our life as intelligent species is to recognize God who lives within us and around us and in us continually. 

Whatever our kind of life, let us remain with God and in God. Our human nature gives various directions to our lives as we pass through various stages of life. Our baptism, a fundamental intervention of God in our lives, requires and makes possible that we live as close to God as is possible for each one of us. Let our intelligence may not blind our readiness to look at God with our hearts opened.  Let us ask that freedom to follow Christ and heed to his call, to accompany Jesus wherever he wants me to go. Let our reasoning capacity, our capacity to ask questions may not blind our vision to seek answers in our lives and to be part of that reign of God. Let that relationship bind us in God’s love, in his eternity, in his peace.

PRAYER: 

Gracious God, inspire us with a vision of your Kingdom in the world, a world where peace is built with justice and all the gifts of creation are respected and shared. Help us to respond to Jesus' call to repent, to reorientate our lives, and believe in goodness. Give us Lord a greater openness to and love for His Word which will certainly have the power to transform our lives and our world. Strengthen us with your word so we may make it a reality. AMEN

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

23 January 2021

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