Tuesday, 28 January 2020

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

The significance of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan continues to reveal itself for us and it has profound ramifications for us as Church. The context of this unfolding is to be found in a region which was considered to be the back of nowhere for a nation which was promised a land of milk and honey. The returning Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali settled in a part of northern Palestine within the vicinity of a tiny lake otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee—a region also called the Galilee of the Nations or Gentiles. There amongst the non-Israelites, they practically had to eke out a living. The Prophet Isaiah promised these people who lived in darkness that a great light will dawn upon them.

As John had been arrested, the ending of the Baptist’s preaching actually ushered in a new ministry. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus left the security of His home for Capernaum, a town in the heart of Galilee. He enters the fray by going right into the heart of darkness to shed His light not just for His own people but for all of mankind. It can be said that Jesus had a primary ministry to the Jews, but this geographical itinerary, according to Matthew fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah. We so often think of St Paul as the Apostles to the Gentiles, but the seed had already been planted here by the Lord Himself.

Thus, the ministry of new light and new life has begun. The Messiah who wants to establish this new kingdom started with a simple but unexpected message of repentance. Whilst His listeners were not unfamiliar with this theme, however, their expectation might just be different. They were expecting something else.


Their ancestor’s journey from Egypt into the Promised Land could only be described as epic in the sense that God was truly with them. In their sojourn from exile, God showed Himself to be the Emmanuel--the God-with-them. However, here in the land of the shadow of death, they were wondering where God could be. They were a people not only disenfranchised economically; they were also politically emasculated; living as it were under the thumb of Rome. For these impoverished people, a light that shines should be one that brings about change both in the sphere of politics and the arena of economics. 

However, repentance must begin with a change of heart, not with an overthrow of government. It definitely does not take place at the wheel of fortune—no matter how you spin it. Change takes place at a more profound level. We know that the biggest battles are fought within the human heart. Transformation is hardest with the self. Hence, “Repent for the Kingdom is close at hand” is a clarion call to people to be ready for the rule of God in their lives. The Messiah has come to inaugurate a new age whereby God can be truly felt as Emmanuel as they undergo transformation.

This mission of transformation started with the calling of the four. The vocation of these four might possibly lead us to conclude that theirs was a ministry of specific service which for us is translated as a call to either the priesthood or religious life. Far from it. Whilst it is fair to speak a of specific vocation to the priestly and/or religious life, at the heart of Christ’s mission is the fundamental transformation of a person or the conversion of one’s heart.

Perhaps we can find an equivalent in our experience to illustrate what it means to be changed interiorly.

How many of you have gone for confession and have not found the change you so desire? We do not just sin. It is not generic because each of us sin in a particular way. Take your pick from the seven deadly sins. We normally think of sin in terms more salacious, like lust, but it can simply be as subtle as gossip or gluttony. The Lunar or Chinese New Year is a season for gluttony, is it not? A person goes to confession but comes out and sins again. You might tell yourself, “Do overeat. Be moderate” but soon enough you would have overeaten. Repeatedly one overindulges as if there were no change. The point is, the pace of change or the conversion we seek is painstakingly slow, at best. At worst, we give up in despair as some might do, telling ourselves, “What’s the point? Nothing changes”. In the meantime, our waistlines bulges. 

Contrast this unchanging self with that of our country and see how that measures out. We elected a new government in 2018 but life has been basically, forgive the language, Shitsville. We expect the government to roll in all that they had promised but really, at the heart of the transformation we desire is a system that is almost corrupt to the core. I have a friend who sells beauty products and she told me she had a regular client who used to buy facial cream to the tune of RM20K each time for use on his body. You would be forgiven if you thought that this “he” was a short fat lady who loves to “advise something”. He has since stopped buying because that kind of obscene spending is dependent on the availability of dirty money in our system. You can ask the upmarket restauranteurs too. The same kind of free spending before 2018 has now dried up. The system we have is finding it difficult to purge itself. In fact, we had all profited from this corrupt system which now we are suffering the painful detoxification that has to take place. The point is, if we who hunger for change is that slow in our conversion, can you blame the system for being seemingly static? Our instant-gratification mentality expects speedy changes out there in the system but we are not ready to make interior changes that are necessary. The transformation we want must begin with the human heart. A clean government must begin with a “clean people”. It does not take place overnight and if you want consequential change in this country, start with yourself.

In summary, the ministry of Jesus to the Gentiles is a universal ministry for it affects all and sundry. We have already established that we do not really need to go far. It is right here within our hearts for we are our own greatest cross or our greatest enemy. For us, an advice would be patience because conversion is always an ongoing process. It never stops. You might fall but get up and continue living in hope. As for the country, I cannot tell you how to vote. The calling of the four is just a beginning but it is not the end. The ministry to change continues with the Church as she must stand as a people who have been renewed and are still undergoing the process of purification so that she can stand out a light drawing those who walk in darkness into the Light of Christ. It is not the preserve of the few priests or religious. This duty is incumbent on all of us.