Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Repent - Believe - Follow
First Reading ( Jon 3:1-5,10 ) : The people of Nineveh repented and turned to God
Second Reading (1Cor 7:29-31 ) : The present world will pass away
Gospel ( Mk 1:14-20 ) : Jesus began to proclaim the Good News
Chinese Classics : “The carriage heads south but should actually go north”(1)
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. Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Jesus 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. (Mk 1:14-20 )
One of our Christian beliefs is that if one repents, one must follow the gospel, and if one follows the gospel one must abandon all and immediately follow Jesus. When Simon, Andrew, James and John became Jesus' apostles, they had to go through these three steps to believe, leave all and follow. Let us note here that there are two elements, 1st, content and 2nd, direction. The content of the gospel is closely related to the context. Jesus preached in Galilee, but Galilee and Jerusalem were not allies, in fact they were almost totally opposed to each other. This was the context when Jesus began his public life.
Jerusalem was the capitol of Judea, the southern kingdom. It was the centre of the religious life of Israel. Some Israelites considered it the most traditional and orthodox centre of their faith.. Galilee, on the other hand, was part of the northern kingdom of Israel, which at one time had been conquered by the Gentiles. It was also a place where many Gentiles lived and the people were deeply influenced by Greek culture. As a result, the faith there was often questioned and criticized by more ‘orthodox’ Jews. These circumstances still held true in Jesus' time and also influenced the early Christian community.
On the other hand, it was in Galilee that Jesus based his operations and led most of his public life. There he preached through words and deeds and proclaimed the Good News (Gospel) of God's Kingdom. It was there he performed most of his miracles, exorcisms and healings. There too he chose his apostles and proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Many people even called him “Jesus the Galilean” (see Matthew 26:69).
Though “salvation is from the Jews” (Jn 4:22), this salvation must enter a much wider world, a world not constrained by any single race, culture, tradition or dominant thought. Because of this, the God to whom we are converted must be a God beyond all constraints, a God who can directly enter into each one's heart and save every one of us. The content of our faith is bound to be one that surpasses time, space, cultures, traditions, and even religions.
Therefore conversion points to a direction. It demands that we be converted, turn our entire selves to God and towards God who is our Source and Foundation.
In The Strategies of the Warring Kingdoms”(2) there is a story about “The carriage heads south but should actually go north.”(1) There was a man who should go south to the country Chu but he headed north instead. People told him time and again that he was going in the wrong direction. But he refused to listen to their kind reminders and did nothing to reverse his route. This was because he knew he had a good horse, sufficient fare for the journey and an expert carriage-driver. What he did not understand was that the more advantages he had, the less likely he was to reach his destination. The fact remained that even though all conditions were in his favour, if the direction was wrong, he would only stray further and further away. One cannot pay attention only to how to drive, one must also look where one is going!
The British historian Russell believed that in order to lead a perfect life, one must be motivated by love and guided by knowledge. There is no doubt that we must have a heart full of love, but we must also have the right direction to life. That is why faith does not ask us to perform good deeds only, or be a good person only. Faith is the choice of a direction, the choice of a new path directed towards God throughout one's life. Only this is true faith, and this kind of faith is conversion.
Conversion shows its truest form in following Christ as described in the gospel, “They immediately left their nets and followed him. They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” According to John's Gospel, this was how two of John the Baptist's disciples followed Jesus. When the two disciples heard John describing Jesus as the Lamb of God, they followed Jesus. Jesus saw that they were following him, so turned and asked them what they were seeking. Instead of answering Jesus' question they asked Jesus where he was going. So Jesus invited them to go and see. The Bible says, “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.” ( Jn 1:39 )
Therefore, following Jesus is not simply about studying doctrine, being baptized, attending Mass, then obeying some of the commandments. Following Jesus means to live with Jesus, experience him, understand him as a person, imbibe his thinking and his spirit. It is to learn about Jesus and imitate him. It is as Paul said later, “Clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” ( Eph 4:24 ).
This is the true faith of Christians. It includes belief, repentance, conversion and discipleship, and an entire life of sublimation and transformation.