Saturday 22 January 2011

The old is past. The new is now.

Zebulun and Naphtali were the first provinces of the Northern kingdom that were captured when the Assyrians took Israel into exile. This is the humiliation that Isaiah speaks about in the first reading of today. However, that is now past. There will now be a reversal brought about by God through his Messianic king, and these will be the first to experience it.
Darkness has turned into light and for Matthew this prophecy of Isaiah is seen as being fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. This ministry in Matthew begins after the arrest of John the Baptist. The choice of location for the beginning of the ministry is Caprenaum and in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned in the first reading and serves as a setting for the fifth formula quotation in the Gospel. The movement from darkness to light that Isaiah prophesied about comes about in Matthew through a response to Jesus’ call to repentance. It is important to understand the placement of the words by Matthew. Though Matthew places the imperative (Repent) before the indicative (for the kingdom of heaven has come near) it must be understood that the basis or reason for repentance is that the kingdom has come near. Something has happened or taken place and therefore something needs to be done. The text does not say that the kingdom will come after repentance rather because the kingdom has indeed come and in the person and ministry of Jesus, people should repent.
The word “repentance” has sometimes been translated to mean “be sorry”, but nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus ask anyone to be sorry for their sins. Yet, he constantly calls people to repentance. The English word “repent” is a translation of the Greek metanoeĊ which literally means “change one’s mind” quite like the man who came home one day and told his wife, “Honey, I’ve changed my mind.” “Thank God,” said his wife, “I hope the new one will function better.” Repentance therefore literally taking out that small mind which engages in stereotyping and dwelling on negatives and replacing it with a mind that is open and flexible and filled with the positive of God’s unconditional love. This openness is the result of having accepted that the kingdom as manifested in Jesus has indeed come near. The coming of the kingdom means that God’s unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness, pardon and acceptance have all been given freely in Jesus. Since this is so, we can do nothing to earn this love; all we have to do is receive it with gratitude and in humility.
How is this repentance shown in action? Paul gives the answer to this question in the second reading of today when he calls the Corinthians and through them us as well to be united. Differences must be made up and disagreements must be ironed out. Each Christian individually and all Christians collectively belong only to Christ and to no one else. To heal the wounds of the divided body of Christ, right words and slogans are certainly necessary but they are by no means sufficient. Over and above the right statements of faith, we need the right attitudes which spring from a recognition that we all belong to Christ. While unity does not mean uniformity the legitimate expression of diversity should never lead to division since Christ is not divided but one. This is the Christ whom Paul preached and wants each of us to continue to preach. His preaching was not in philosophical terms or treatises but in language that conveyed that all that was received was through grace. It was this grace and free choice of God that led to Jesus to call the first four disciples. Jesus takes the initiative here. He comes to the brothers Simon and Andrew, he sees them and he calls to them. He does the same with James and John. They respond generously to his call which is both a command and promise. The command is to follow the person of Jesus and not merely a value or an ideal. This indicates that following Jesus demands first of all total dedication to him.
The summary statement which concludes the Gospel reading serves as a summary of all three readings namely that like Jesus, the task of the Christian who decides to follow him will also be that of making people whole and through this action to proclaim the Good news that God’s love, mercy, pardon and forgiveness is indeed a reality today. The Kingdom has come.

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