To Repent and To Believe

January 24, 2021 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time; National Bible Sunday

Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012421.cfm)

What if that something which you are so attached to is needed to be let go in order for you to grow? I remember when I was still a young boy, I was so attached with my baby bottle. I used that bottle until I was about 5 or 6 years old. However, I was asked to let it go and stop using it since I was already big enough and was about to start schooling. I wanted to start school with my friends but I found it very difficult to let go of my baby bottle. I was told that I could not bring it with me and the only way of going to school with my friends was to let go of that baby bottle.

When we develop forms of attachments, whatever that may be, we could become rigid and stubborn. Our attachment will become the focus of our world that we may refuse to see what is beyond it. Thus, we would tend to limit ourselves from discovering more about ourselves and about others because we are already fixated to one or two. Nevertheless, there is certainly a need for us to look at our attachments and fixations and see if they are helpful or not in deepening our friendship with God and others.

Our attachments or fixations in life may not just be about material things that we possess but they can also be our beliefs, our opinions and ideas, biases, prejudices and perspectives and even our way of life. Because they have become central in the way we think, in the way we relate with others and in the way we live our life, we also find comfort and familiarity in them. When these happen, they become difficult to let go because those attachments or fixations have gripped us already.

As a result, we experience tensions and conflicts when we are also asked to detach ourselves from our attachments. We may feel being threatened because of the desire to remain in that state, to remain in that comfort and familiarity.

This is the scenario behind the story of Prophet Jonah. Jonah, as a Jew, hated the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital of city of their enemy, the Assyrians. The Jews were assaulted and attacked many times by the Assyrians. However, at this time, God asked Jonah to go there and proclaim God’s message to them. Jonah tried to escape from this because he did not want this. He hated them so much. Yet, because he could not escape from God, he went to Nineveh against his will and called the people to repentance. Jonah must have wished that the people would not repent and be punished by God because he wanted them, dead. However, the people repented and turned away from their sins and God showed mercy.

This was something that Jonah found it difficult to understand. He thought and believed that God was only for the Jews. Yet, he realized too that God is beyond his limited understanding of God’s mercy. God is for everybody. God’s mercy is borderless. Jonah understood this later on because he was also able to let go of his biases against his enemies. Jonah let go of his prejudices against them and began to see life in God’s perspective.

Indeed, the experience of Jonah teaches us how God shows His infinite and borderless mercy. In fact, it was not just the Ninevites who repented from their sins, Jonah also repented from his biases and hatred towards the people. This was how Jonah showed his growth as a person and as a prophet of God.

In the same way, Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians brought this challenge not to be gripped and to be too attached to the things in this world. Though Paul did not say that everything we have in this life are unimportant, but, Paul brought out the essential aspect of what is to come. That is why, he said

let those having wives act as not having them,

those weeping as not weeping,

those rejoicing as not rejoicing,

those buying as not owning, 

those using the world as not using it fully.

For the world in its present form is passing away.

Paul reminds us really of the danger to be too attached of what the world offers us. Our possessions and even our life itself is not ours. Again, making ourselves too absorbed with our attachments and fixations, deprives us to experience the fullness of life with others and with God. Thus, it is when we learn to give more emphasis on God that we also discover the boundless generosity and mercy of the Lord to us.

This is the very story that we have also heard in today’s Gospel. The call of Simon, Andrew, James and John was a radical call to follow Jesus and to give more importance to God in their lives. As Jonah repented from his hatred and changed his perspective in God’s perspective, the disciples also turned away from their comforts in order to follow the Lord. By following Jesus, they too embraced a life that completely changed the course of their way of living from being fishermen into being missionaries.

This is basically what Paul told us in the second reading – and that is in giving more importance to God’s offer to us. Remember, we can only do this and respond like the disciples when we also repent and change our way of life. Jesus, at the beginning of this Gospel, proclaimed, “Repent and believe in the gospel.

Indeed, these are the invitations for us this Sunday – TO REPENT AND TO BELIEVE in the gospel, in the Word of God made flesh.

To repent is to turn away from our sins, as well us turning away from those attachments and fixations in us that are preventing us from growing to become mature in our relationships with one another and with God, and those that are preventing us to see life in the way God sees it to be.

To believe in the Gospel is to respond with generosity and availability to God and to those who are in need of mercy. To believe in Jesus is also becoming dependent on God and in His providence that will allow us to embrace new perspective and fresh beginnings in life and to embrace change in our way of life according to God’s desire for us.

May these invitations to repent and to believe, inspire growth  in us and bring us into the fullness of life with Jesus and with the Church. Hinaut pa.

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