Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today we hear the opening words of Jesus' public ministry: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Perhaps these words sound familiar. Well, they are exactly the same words John preached[1]. It seems like Jesus is a continuation of John the Baptist. In one sense that is true. Jesus does pick up where John left off. Still, in two important ways, Jesus gives a whole new meaning to John's words. The most significant difference is the person of Jesus. John was the last and the greatest prophet. Jesus, on the other hand, is God. He not only announces the kingdom; he brings it about in his person. With Jesus something new enters human history. This is major[2].

As followers of Jesus, we do not stand on the sidelines and wring our hands. Jesus did not allow John's arrest to intimidate him. He picked up the prophet's message, "Repent." You and I have that same message. Now, I don't recommend going out on the sidewalk and telling people to repent. The first person we need to address is not the guy with the gay pride sticker. The first person you and I need to address is the one we see in the mirror each morning. You and I have absorbed our society's lax views. In St. Paul's words, we have emptied the cross of its meaning. Let's face it: We admire the strong - the rich, the famous, the powerful - and we find the weak to be a nuisance. That attitude is poison. Repent.

The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict asked, what exactly is the kingdom. The pope's answer is beautiful: Jesus is quite simply "proclaiming God and that he is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting." Jesus is telling us, "‘God exists’ and ‘God really is God,’ which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world"[3].

Do you see what Pope Benedict is saying? If God holds the threads of the world in his hand, we have nothing to fear. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Early Christians calmly faced torture and death because they knew that God has the final word. At this very moment, in atheistic and Islamic countries, Christians are facing persecution. Jesus' words sustain them. What about us? Opposition to us is growing, but it is still minor by comparison. The danger we face is not so much to our bodies, but to our souls – and the souls of our children. That danger has increased in recent years. But even though the situation has changed, the solution is the same, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

[1] cf. Mt 3:2
[2] Sunday 27th January, 2008; 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Readings: Isaiah 8:23-9:3. The Lord is my light and my salvation-Ps 26(27):1, 4, 13-14. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17. Matthew 4:12-23. [St Angela Merici].
Ilustration: Peter, although on his knees, busy, and looking up to Jesus, is the dominant, not only the central figure of this scene. His portrait evokes robust simplicity, down-to-earth industriousness and practical sense. In his eyes, he carries a definite dose of mild skepticism. In contrast, Christ appears fainthearted, a hesitant petitioner rather than a fiery leader of disciples. Drawn mainly in profile to reinforce the impression of meek and gentle hesitation, the gesture of Jesus' right hand placed on Peter's shoulder considerably alters the overall impression of weakness and indetermination. The hand is both tender and heavy, and has a definite effect on Peter's behavior. His right eye -the eye closest to Jesus' hand- suddenly widens in amazement and understanding. Christ's silent call has penetrated his thick and round head and reached his heart. The third figure, Andrew, the brother of Simon, looks on, seemingly puzzled, but eventually he will follow Peter's decision. Otto Dix (1891-1969) refused to be called Christian. Asked to give a plausible reason for his refusal, he answered that in order to be a true Christian one had to follow Christ, but that he himself was not able to say yes to Jesus' invitation.
Otto Dix, The Calling of Peter (1960) .

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris