Saturday, January 21, 2012

Repent and Believe

Third Ordinary Sunday Year B

It is interesting to note how statistics can often serve as a device to soften the harsh blows of reality. Numbers tend to provide us with false consolation that these realities reflected by the statistics are kept at bay and will not touch us. One of the statistics that would trigger the interest of many would be that concerning human mortality or rather causes of death. Did you know - That the largest killer which is medically certified is Ischaemic heart disease which stands at 12.9%, followed by pneumonia at 7%, cerebrovascular disease at 6.6%, septicaemia at 6.0% and transport accidents at 5.8%. It’s funny how we often have to find a reason for death. When the doctors can’t determine the reason, they would then label it as ‘unknown causes.’ This seems to imply that if someone did not suffer from a heart attack or cancer, or a stroke or a car accident or something else, the person would not die. That’s ridiculous, right? Let me give you some real statistics. The reality is this, all of us will die, that’s 100%!

Is doesn’t matter when we die - We may die at 90 years old or we may die at 10. It doesn’t matter how we may die – we may die of old age, or we may die of sickness, or we may die as a result of an accident. The fact of the matter is – we all die. No matter how long you may live, no matter how healthy you may be, death comes surely to each and every one of us. Life is short. It is only at death that all will be revealed – what is of value and what is of little value.

Why all this talk about the inevitability of death? Does it stem from some sick morbid sense of humour on my part? Well, all this discussion about the inevitability of mortality is what the readings are trying to remind us today. The people whom the readings were being addressed to were all living comfortable and anxious-free lives. They were marrying and having children, carrying on their businesses, going to school and getting an education. They were trying to achieve their ambitions – becoming richer, more powerful, more comfortable lifestyles, and generally trying to be happier. The readings, however, were God’s attempt at reminding them that all these things which they regard as so important in this life will come to naught at death. Death makes us wiser if we are prepared to listen to it. It teaches us that nothing that we have accumulated in this life – our riches, power, possessions, popularity – none of these things can be brought over to the next life.

In today’s gospel, Jesus begins his good news with these words: “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.” When Jesus spoke of time here, he wasn’t talking about looking at your watch or at the time of the day or the month or the year. The word ‘time’ is a translation of the word ‘kairos.’ The Greeks have two words for time – ‘kronos’ and ‘kairos.’ ‘Kronos’, as the English derivative ‘chronology’ would suggest, speaks about measured time, that is time according to the clock, the calendar etc. Kairos, on the other hand, speaks of an opportune time, a time to act, a time to make a decision. Let me give you an example. Now it is 8.30 in the morning. That’s kronos. But its also time to decide whether I should come to church for mass or go to the mall for some shopping or perhaps spend a little more time in bed. That’s kairos.

Therefore, this is a paraphrase of Jesus’ message. “Now is the time for decision. It is a time to repent, in order words, to turn your back on everything which seems so important for the moment but would not bring you any closer to salvation. A Time to believe, to turn towards God. A time to follow Jesus and become his disciple. In this sense, the first disciples of Jesus lived out this call to repent and believe by leaving their professions and family in order to follow Jesus in this new way of life. Now is the time for conversion. Ultimately, conversion is needed when we wish to unseat the Ego, the self, from the throne of our hearts and instead make way for God, to become its rightful king. It is a time to put God first above all else. Thus, to repent and believe the Good news does not only mean feeling sorry for your past sins or taking time to study your catechism. To repent and believe is a conscious decision to turn your back on the life where self, the world, possessions, ambition, greed, selfishness, pride are reigning sovereigns in order that God may truly be Lord of our lives.” The decision has to be made now – not tomorrow, not next month or at the end of the year, or even next year. We are called to repentance “Now” because we will never know whether today will be our last.

Maybe it may seem strange to some of you that we mention death and repentance at the beginning of the year (or with Chinese New Year, just round the corner). It seems strange because our minds are filled with plans for the whole year – some project that we are working on at the moment, plans to get married, plans to have a child, plans to move into a new house, making plans to celebrate Chinese New Year next week. But have you ever really stopped to wonder that if death comes knocking at your door tonight or as soon as you step out of the church, what will become of your plans? All that we consider important now becomes unimportant at the point of death. The only thing that matters is the Kingdom of God – our relationship with God. Is God master of our lives? Have I placed him first above all else? If your answer to all these questions is “No,” its time now to Repent and Believe the Good News!

In today’s mass, let us pray that we will learn from the example given to us by the Ninevites in the first reading, pagans and unbelievers, but so ready to repent when they heard the message of the Lord delivered by Jonah. Let us also pray that we will be able to live out our identity as Christians, as followers of Christ, just like the first apostles who were called by Jesus in today’s gospel. Are we prepared to leave “our nets and follow him”? Are we prepared to let go of all our false securities and place our entire trust in God, the Lord of life and death?

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