January 13, 2014

The Gospel Today 

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time 

Mark 1:14-20

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.

Reflection (Sem. Jul Elden Nuiquie):

     At the beginning of this pericope, there is a short reference to the arrest of John the Baptist, and it is then that Jesus starts his public ministry of proclaiming that, “the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news!”  In chapter 6 of this same Gospel account, we learn of the Baptizer’s death, and there is a flashback of the reason for his arrest: he reprimanded Herod about the unlawfulness of marrying his brother’s wife.  As I reflect on this, two traits of our Lord come to mind: courage against danger and commitment to the Father.

     When times are dangerous for speaking the truth in public, such as the climate in Galilee at the start of Jesus’ preaching, it takes courage to talk about what may be construed as subversive.  Our Lord proclaims the coming of the Kingdom at a time when Roman military forces occupy the Jewish lands, the puppet government of Herod aims to please Caesar, and the Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes seeks to maintain their religious authority over all the descendants of Abraham.  This powder keg of conflicting forces with a short fuse is just begging for a spark and Jesus, in their eyes, wields a very bright torch!  Yet our Lord’s motivation stems not from selfish reasons but from obedience to the Father, the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who through Moses freed the Israelites from Egypt and has brought them to the Promised Land.  This motivation strengthens Jesus to fulfill his mission to the very end, even though in human terms it is a most painful and humiliating one.

     During my lifetime, the example of Ninoy Aquino, husband of Cory, came to mind as coming close to an imitation of Jesus.  When he returned to the Philippines, he sought not public office but only the nation’s freedom from the tyranny of the Marcos regime.  He died on the tarmac of the then Manila International Airport, from the gun of an assassin; yet his death sparked a revolution for freedom in the hearts and minds of all Filipinos, which ended in a bloodless coup, the ouster of the dictator, and exile of his entire family.  The entire world celebrated with our country as they acclaimed the righteousness of our people power.  We were the toast of humanity.

     Yet, almost thirty years after that miraculous exodus from authoritarianism, where are we?  We have yet to reach the promised land of milk and honey, called by many names: New Centennial, “Angat Pinoy,” “Daang Matuwid,” to name just a few.  As a student of theology and a future priest, I think that we have lost our motivation, the one we share with Ninoy, the same motivation we share with Jesus.  In Ninoy’s terms it is freedom from oppression, in Jesus’ terms it is freedom from sin.  However, both of them draw strength from the same God – Ninoy sees the country as a type of God, Jesus sees God as Father.  Our country needs to reclaim this motivation to obey the Father, to love him first and to love our fellow man and woman as we love ourselves.  This love for God begins with prayer, getting to know the Father as he intimately knows us, and allowing him to transform us into our original selves, for he knows us even before he formed us in our mother’s womb.  As we get to know God, we begin to act like him with one another, never allowing our brother or sister to fall into sin, always seeking the improvement of the other person, motivated by selfless and unconditional love.  Collectively, our small God-like acts of love, imitations of Christ, can overcome even the structures of sin, such as social injustice and institutional corruption.  When we live with courage to follow the example of Christ, committed to the will of God the Father, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, then the Kingdom is truly upon us.

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