By REV. CALUM R. TABADA
Senior Chaplain and Pastor
Church of the Risen Lord, University of the Philippines
3rd Sunday of Epiphany* January 24, 2021
Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 Jon 3:1-5, 10 1 Cor 7:29-31 Mk 1:14-20
Whether we like it or not, one of the things that most probably turns people off from following Jesus is when he said in Matthew 16:24, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (NRSV) The words “deny themselves” and “take up their cross” seem to paint a picture of a difficult life for those who would like to follow our Lord.
In a world of self-gratification and self-aggrandizement, Jesus’ call to become his followers in our time today would most likely fall on deaf ears. However, this is not the case for those who have seen the light of the Gospel message especially in our time today when the Good News of our Lord is very much needed.
For the faith community or the Church, following Christ is of utmost joy as it is a call to be part of a revolution to change the oppressive conditions of the world maintained by the powers that be. Jesus’ call of his first disciples in our Gospel reading today is set in a backdrop where the people were longing for a Savior that would lead them to victory against their oppressive Roman overlords. They were longing for a time when the promised Messiah would come and end their miseries brought about by their enemies who long subjugated them. They were longing for the Christ to finally lead them to Shalom.
This long-standing desire for God’s Kingdom thought to be patterned after the Kingdom that King David established was most-probably what was in the minds of the first disciples of Jesus when they immediately left their nets and followed him after Jesus called them to “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” That desire has been in the hearts and minds of the people then that it didn’t require Jesus to explain his call except to say that the kingdom of God has come near and that he is inviting them to follow him and make them fish for people.
In his book, “Binding the Strong Man,” author Ched Myers indicates that the metaphor for fishing is taken from Jeremiah 16:16, symbolizing God’s disapproval of Israel. In Amos 4:2 and Ezekiel 29:4, catching fish with hooks is used to represent divine judgment upon the rich and the powerful. Myers said, “Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.”
With this perspective, Dr. Osvaldo Vena, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Interpretation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, in his commentary suggests therefore that “the purpose of Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to take people out of a hostile world, promising them a better life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Instead, his purpose is to change the world in such a way that it will cease to be the hostile place it is, so that God’s reign can be established on earth.”
The invitation to “fish for people” or to become fishers of people therefore has long been understood as a call to change the world order, for the Kingdom of God to be established where Shalom – God’s justice and peace, reigns.
The world we live in today continues to be a hostile place, especially for the majority who are deprived of the basics in life. Statistics would tell us that most of the world’s resources are held only by a few and the aphorism “the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer” continues to be true. If we take a look at what’s happening around us, we can see that this is due to the fact that those who are in power wield such power with impunity, and those with wealth continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the ordinary people. This indeed is a hostile world for God’s people.
In this situation, as a Church, as God’s people, it is therefore easy for us to respond to Jesus’ call for us to follow him and change the world precisely because this hostile world needs to be changed for the better. If this is so, where therefore lies the struggle of following Christ?
Our struggle can be understood in our Old Testament lectionary reading in the book of Jonah. As a people called to proclaim God’s message to the people, we struggle like Jonah. We very well know the message and this message is the same message that Jesus carried with him in our Gospel reading. This message is that of repentance.
As we experience the hostilities of this world, perpetuated by those in power and influence, flaunted by those who have the means to exploit and control either by sheer violence or the lure of mammon, we are very much tempted to desire for them nothing but death and suffering. Like Jonah we don’t like to go to Nineveh and preach repentance, we like them to suffer calamity and destruction for what they have done to the people. They have maimed, tortured, killed, raped, took advantage, imprisoned, harassed, threatened ordinary, helpless people. They have displaced the Lumad, took over their ancestral lands, and used them against themselves. They have apportioned the country’s resources for their own selfish ends, getting their hands on whatever they can pocket from government-funded projects. They have red-tagged and vilified people who have nothing but only concern for the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed. We can go on and on with the list.
This is our struggle. Like Jonah we are angry and would like them to suffer the consequence of their actions, we want them to be punished for what they’ve brazenly done against the people. But God’s call for us is a call to proclaim repentance, to give them a second chance like what we all have experienced in our lives. We are called by God to let them know and realize that God is a gracious and compassionate God and that they, like the people of Nineveh, should turn from their evil ways.
Let us therefore let go of our struggle in following Christ and proclaim repentance, knowing that, while we have a gracious and compassionate God and praying in earnest that they indeed turn from their evil ways, not doing so might move God to consider making good his threat of overthrowing and unleashing destruction upon them. Amen.
Balik-Tanaw is a group blog of Promotion of Church People’s Response. The Lectionary Gospel reflection is an invitation for meditation, contemplation, and action. As we nurture our faith by committing ourselves to journey with the people, we also wish to nourish the perspective coming from the point of view of hope and struggle of the people. It is our constant longing that even as crisis intensifies, the faithful will continue to strengthen their commitment to love God and our neighbor by being one with the people in their dreams and aspirations. The Title of the Lectionary Reflection would be Balik –Tanaw , isang PAGNINILAY . It is about looking back (balik) or revisiting the narratives and stories from the Biblical text and seeing ,reading, and reflecting on these with the current context (tanaw).