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Commentary for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Fr James Gilhooley - Sat, Jan 21st 2012

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B - 

The penitent asked, "Does God accept repentance?" The priest asked in turn, "Do you throw away dirty laundry?" "No," replied the sinner. The priest said, "Neither will God throw you away."

Anthony de Mello writes, "Jesus proclaimed the good news, yet he was rejected. Not because it was good, but because it was new. We don't want new things when they involve change and most particularly if they cause us to say, 'I was wrong.'" We are told the only person who welcomes change is a wet baby.

A Scot poet wrote a description of himself with which we can identify. "My life reminded me of a ruined temple. What strength, what proportion in some parts! What unsightly gaps, what  prostrate ruins in others!"

"Repent and believe the good news" are the first words that Jesus the Christ spoke in the Gospel of Mark. So one must conclude that this brief message must be of paramount importance to Him. They are but six words and yet they continue to turn the world upside down. And they send us into denial. 

I lean here on William Barclay's research. 

The first word of Christ's message is that frightening word "repent." The sinner, according to Avery Dulles, has only two options - to be pardoned or to be punished. The Nazarene defines repentance as not merely saying, "I'm sorry" but also I will change my life." While God forgets the sin, He does not forget the repentant sinner. When God forgives us in the confessional, He suffers from total amnesia. Heaven, we are advised, is filled with converted sinners and the good news is there is room for billions more. But we must repent.

Christ would remind us, "No matter what your past may resemble, your future is spotless. And the saints are saints precisely because they kept on trying."

Modern culture dismisses sin. But the Nazarene does not buy into that message. A New Testament concordance contains a dozen columns on the subject of sin and only eight on love. God would remind us that He gave Moses on Mount Sinai Ten Commandments and not Ten Suggestions. He never said, "Keep my commandments unless of course you have a headache." 

The second term of interest in the six word message is the good news. The news is good precisely because it brings us to the truth. Until the advent of the Teacher, people could only  search for God. No less a person than the mighty Job in 23:3 shouted out in pain, "Oh, that today I might find him, that I might come to his judgment seat!" But the Nazarene says to today's Jobs, "He who sees me sees the Father."

The good news brings hope. The ancients dwelled in a culture of gloom. The Roman philosopher Seneca (3 BC-65 AD) spoke of "our helplessness in necessary things." Try as they might, people somehow could never get out of square one. They constantly found themselves behind the infamous eight ball. Their feet were forever tied together. Christ's arrival changes that scene. St Paul in Colossians 1:23 tells his readers that they must not be "shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the Gospel." Perhaps Paul's message inspired Emily Dickinson to opine that hope is the feather in the soul of each of us. The future, says Teilhard, is in the hands of those who can give people valid reasons to live and hope."

The good news offers everyone peace. Virtue and evil are constantly fighting for the upper hand in each of us. Morally we are split personalities, moral schizophrenics. St Paul identifies with our human condition in the famous words, "The good I would do that I do not. The evil I would not do that I do." This is what the Scot poet was speaking of. Yet, if we surrender ourselves to the Christ, those Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personalities in us can at last become one worthwhile entity.

St Paul advises (Ephesians 6): "Let the shoes on your feet be the good news of peace." If we take his recommendation, our feet will become unbound. We need not fear where they will take us. We will walk over pebbles and feel no pain. 

Abraham Lincoln was asked what he thought of a sermon. He replied it was good but had one defect. The preacher didn't ask us to be great. One cannot say that of Jesus in today's Gospel.

We ask the mystic, "How does one get to heaven?" She answers, "The same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice! Practice! Practice!" 

Go for the golden apple. The aphorism is correct. While it's risky to go out on a limb, that's where the apple is.

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