Commentary to the 3rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - YEAR B
THE TEXT BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPTION OF THE VIDEO COMMENTARY BY FR. FERNANDO ARMELLI
“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.”
A good Sunday for everyone.
The Baptist has already accompanied us during Advent, he has prepared us for the coming of the Lord, and he also spoke to us at the beginning of the New Year. Remember last Sunday when he told his two disciples that the Lamb was the one who would give birth to the new world. Today's Gospel text tells us that the Baptist has been “handed over” to political power. This verb is very important because it is used in the Gospels also for Jesus; it is never said that Judas betrayed his Master; it is always said that he gave him up to the religious- and political powers because these two kingdoms are always allied when they are in front of the Lamb. If the one who pointed to the Lamb has been imprisoned, something different cannot happen for the Lamb either.
Why do the kingdoms of this world bother about the presence of this Lamb? The kingdoms of this world are those based on strength, on domination, on competition, on rivalry, the one who is strong wins and whoever is weak is crushed, the poor are exploited, eliminated. This is the logic of the ancient kingdoms and those who have this power, believe that the big, successful, powerful are the ones who win, the ones who are able to crush the weak.
Now a new world is entering, and why does the presence of the Lamb disturb these kingdoms? Because, earlier the logic world was accepted as normal by all. Now there is a Lamb, and the beasts realize that they are not human, but beasts; and then if they want to continue with their power, they must eliminate the Lamb.
The imprisonment of the Baptist should have been a warning to Jesus, perhaps he should have thought, according to human logic, that it was better to leave everything and return to Nazareth and there was his mother waiting for him. But he had come into this world not to introduce a power stronger than those before him but to begin a world that is completely new, an alternative society, that of the lambs and the lamb speaks to us only of meekness, of sweetness. The lamb gives all, both in life in death.
Now the Baptist concludes his mission; he leaves the scene and the public life of Jesus begins. The place he chooses to begin is not Judea, it is not the capital, Jerusalem, but Galilee, a land despised, considered semi-pagan, only marginally remembered in the Old Testament, mentioned only five times, but without any importance.
Jesus begins his public life by saying, “This is the time of fulfilment.” He doesn't say kronos, in Greek. This is where words like chronology come from. NO, he says the kairos and kairos in Greek means 'the right moment', 'the decisive moment', 'the opportunity not to be missed'... You have to take advantage of it as you go along because it is an opportunity that you must not miss. Maybe it won't show up again. It is the fullness of the times that had been announced by the prophets. What's happening that's so important, Jesus says, is that the kingdom of God is here, it's near, you can touch it, you can grasp it, don't let it escape because it is a treasure; take it now.
What is this kingdom of God? It was the great hope of all the people. Israel had had the experience of the monarchy for 450 years and the result had not just been disappointing but disastrous, because the kings of Israel instead of letting themselves be guided by the word of the prophets, had continued to reason according to the logic of the kingdoms of this world.
The kings of Israel had behaved like thieves and robbers, not like shepherds. Now all the people are in expectation; they expected a change in the world and if we take into account this expectation cultivated for centuries by the Israelites we will be able to understand the explosive charge of Jesus' words as soon as his public life begins.
The time of waiting is over for the kingdom of God, the kingdom of peace. What does this kingdom consist of? The kingdom that God wants in this world is that man does not be a beast, but a person. And the person is human when he or she loves, when she opens her heart to the needs of his brothers and sisters and puts herself at the service of her brothers and sisters who are the opposite of the ancient world.
Therefore, adhering to this kingdom does not mean going to church, which is a good thing, but it means changing the whole way of dealing with the reality of this world; all life needs to change, the work, the way of working, of managing money, life in the family, everything is now governed by a new principle which is to forget one's selfishness. It was the first rule that handled all the options, now the rule is love, attention to the other, service.
Exactly the behavior that is presented with the image of the 'lamb.' Therefore, there is a change of regime. We know what happens when one regime falls and another begins. Those who were previously considered great, now they are no longer worth anything and whoever was in prison is now moving free, those who were in power must now go to the last place.
This is what the kingdom of God that Jesus now introduces means. The rulers are no longer important, but the servants now have become great. Those who were rich and accumulated goods no longer count for anything. Before he was the man who was successful, now he is the man who counts for nothing. Great now is one who became a servant. Before it was the powerful who were admired, everyone bowed before them... no, now one must bow before those who are humble, those who are meek, those who serve because these are the great people.
It is the announcement that the world has changed; and if people remain attached to the principles of the ancient world they will fail. How do we enter this kingdom? Jesus says that there are two conditions: to be converted and to believe in the gospel. What does it mean to be converted? It means preparing for a way of reasoning that is an earthquake; it is, then, a radical change that affects the way of living.
The first earthquake must occur in the mind and is a conversion in the way of imagining God. Jesus came in the first place to correct the deformed image of God that people have created following the criteria with which they were running the society. The God they imagined blessed the powers of this world. The king, the great emperors were considered the sons of God because this was the false image of God. Jesus came to change this image of God. God is not a ruler who must be served, He is not the lawmaker who gives orders and if his orders are transgressed he punishes you if you do not repent. Enough with this pagan image of God! If you remain united to the image of a pagan and ancient God, you remain in the ancient world. You do not adhere to the kingdom of God introduced by Jesus.
The image of God, first of all, is that of God who is only good. This is the first conversion that Jesus requires. Then, there is also a moral conversion. It is not a matter of becoming a little better, a few more prayers, some alms... NO. It's about changing your life completely. These are the values that guide the choices of those who have now turned around. Just think: what is the scale of values that many people have in the old kingdom, those who have not yet accepted the new world introduced by Jesus? What is the scale of their values? Above all, for some people, it is the search of pleasures and enjoying life... For them life is worth living if you can enjoy it well.
If this is at the top of the scale of values and decides everything else, then all the options depend on this fundamental choice that becomes the god of the people, the all-day program. And then, if this is the greatest value, to achieve it one would even accept the abandonment of the wife because a better one was found, because it is pleasure that decides those options. I can also waste the resources of creation, without thinking about future generations because I have to enjoy life. This is the god of many people, pleasure, what I like.
Let us note that atheism does not exist, it never did, everyone has their 'god’ that regulates the whole life. If at the top of the scale of values you put money, as it happens with many people who have not yet entered the new world, then you have to accumulate goods, you have to have always more, they are the ones that decide your day; therefore, from early in the morning when I wake up I listen to the program my god gives me - money. The bank account is what decides whom I should consider friend and whom I should consider enemy; friend is he who favors me, enemy is he who does not help me to have money, that's the one who advises me when and how I have to tell the truth and when I have to lie. Money is what shows me the people to admire and flatter and the people to despise, slander or fight. It is money that tells me what is of value and what is worthless; it is money that tells me what is right and what is wrong. If it makes you increase your bank account it becomes an asset. The same with deception, subterfuge, exploitation becomes good if it is money that rules. This is the dehumanizing world.
To convert means to turn over the scale of values that is considered correct by the worldly mentality. Money should be left in its place, family in its place. The false proposition of man cannot be put on top but the proposal of man that the Lamb makes you with his gospel; that is the prototype of man. And it is to this man that you must turn.
And "believe in the gospel." You don't believe 'the' gospel that seems like a momentary statement; we say 'believe me,' it means to invite trust in that particular moment, NO. Believing in the gospel is like a wife saying: ‘I believe in my husband.' She doesn't believe her husband, she believes IN her husband, it means she is risking her life because she knows he will make her happy. If he wants to change the world, if he wants to introduce this alternative society that is that of the lambs, Jesus must find someone to share his project with, to follow him and this is, in fact, the call of the first two disciples:
“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 abandoned their nets and followed him. As a chronicle of a fact, the story of the call of the first disciples that Mark narrates to us, is not very credible. How is it possible that men who seem never to have known Jesus before, when they are called leave everything and follow him? Not only is it unlikely, but it is difficult to reconcile with what John tells us
and that we heard him say last week. John tells us that the first disciples were followers of the Baptist and when their teacher pointed to Jesus saying 'Behold the Lamb of God' they followed the new teacher Jesus of Nazareth. They stayed with him that day and Andrew, one of the two, was really excited about the encounter with Christ and when he met his brother Simon he said: "We found the Messiah."
Mark's goal, therefore, is not to offer an account of the events but to write a page of catechesis that speaks to us today, he wants us to reflect on what it means to be called by Christ and to follow him. Let us pay much attention: vocation is only one; when we talk about vocations in general we think in that of the priests, of the religious men and women.
There is only one vocation of disciples. The vocation is to leave the logic of the old world, which is what we said about rivalry, competition, beasts and accept the proposal of being lambs. To follow the Lamb, and become lambs, together with Jesus. This is the only vocation that is then realized in situations, under different conditions according to the personality of each one. This fact of being 'lambs' is realized in different contexts.
Jesus said, "Come with me and I will make you fishers of men.” He does not promise anything; What does it mean to be fishermen of men? We know; the sea, the sea water, is the right place for fish life, not for people. People sink in sea water, they cannot live, they must be taken out so that they can live. The sea in Semitic culture indicates the place of the forces of evil, the seat of demons, of everything that is against life. People must be brought out of these conditions.
What is the task of the disciples? To take these brothers and sisters who are living in the ancient world, who follow the logic of the ancient world, worldliness, and bring them out into the kingdom of God so that they can truly be people. And this must be done immediately. In fact, immediately they leave the nets and follow him. There is no time to lose, life is one, time passes.
Therefore, he who loves his brother must draw him out of these waters that prevent him from living and leading him, instead, to the following of Christ. The nets that we must cast off are the sign of everything that prevents us from immediately following Christ. If we are attached to Christ, but still have networks that keep us in the old world, we are not going far; if we want to be new people we must cut through the past. Let's think about the various nets
that still keep us tied down: worldliness, our laziness, our comforts, our habits, our traditions, our envy, our jealousy, our attachment to money.... if we don't give a cut we find ourselves in a condition in which the adherence to Christ is still mixed with pagan logic and therefore is a life that is neither pagan nor Christian.
It is what is called lukewarmness in the famous letter that the Risen Lord sends to the church of Laodicea, in the book of Revelation. Lukewarm water is the result of mixing of hot water - which is the symbol of love, therefore, of the following of Christ – with cold water which indicates the old world, the ancient world. Christ does not accept this lukewarm water. You are or you are not. If you want to stay in the pagan life, stay in the pagan life, but if you follow Christ, give a clean cut to the former life-style.
The very crude expression used in the book of Revelation, is that this lukewarm water cannot be drunk, it makes you vomit; Christ does not accept this disorderly life. Follow him immediately, make up your mind, give a clear cut to the past. Jesus does not turn around to see if those two have accepted the proposal he has made to them. He keeps walking because he has a goal to reach and in fact by going forward he meets two others, always on the shore of the Genesaret lake.
“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.”
The story of the call of James and John seems to be a repetition of the previous one. Why does Mark tell it to us? Because it is an important message for us. Jesus meets with all kinds of people and therefore, with us too, in the condition in which we find ourselves, with the profession we are carrying out and it is not that it makes us change our profession, he makes us live our life in a radically different way because it will be a life guided, no longer by withdrawal into oneself, for the pursuit of our benefit, but for attention, love and service to the brother and sister.
Thus, when Jesus calls, we continue to perform the same tasks as before the call, but in a completely different way, following the values that Jesus proposes. Concretely there are many professions or occupations. Let's think about when Jesus calls Matthew: before he was a thief, he collected taxes, but he also stole. He was preoccupied with himself alone. Later, when he became a disciple of Christ, he would continue to collect taxes because it is his duty and a service that must be carried out. But here, he would be thinking only of the good of the people. Another, formerly a doctor, will continue to be a doctor, but if before he felt superior to the sick and perhaps used their illnesses to enrich himself; now no longer, he feels a slave to his brother and sister. You ran a company and did it to accumulate wealth. But now no more; Now you think about making your employees happy and make a product that can really be enjoyed by all who use it.
This is the change that occurs in those who want to follow him after responding to the call of Jesus. They leave the criteria of the old pagan world and choose the logic of the gospel. What do these two brothers do? They left their father and the other day laborers, so these two were richer than Peter and Andrew because they had employees. They leave the father. To leave the father means to leave the tradition, to leave the way of life they had always led because in Semitic culture the father means the link with what has always been done; therefore, life. The pagan criterion must now be cut off, because the adhesion is given to Christ, absolute novelty.
Let us also be mindful of the religious traditions to which we may be bound and attached and if the gospel questions these traditions, they have to be left, one abandons the father. Then, also, the day laborers are abandoned. There are no more servants, no more people to whom we can impose our will. The logic of the gospel does not admit this.
These first disciples have given full adhesion. This tells us how strong the call of the gospel is. We must have confidence in this word because when we throw this word to those who are floating in the waters of paganism and are not living, let us have confidence because this word reaches the heart, has a divine power in itself and when they hear this word of the gospel
and, the heart tells them that Christ is right because we are well made by the Creator God. I wish you all a good Sunday and a good week.