“Hope for the Wayward”
January 24, 2021
3rd Sunday After Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
In this Season of Epiphany, we are challenged to manifest God and His kingdom to the world as followers of Jesus. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus started His ministry with a proclamation, “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come so repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus is announcing to the world, especially the principalities and the powers of the world and to all its citizens that the world system’s time is up. Enough is enough! They have been wicked for too long. Now is the time for the Kingdom to come and to replace the evil ways of the world with its foundation – that of righteousness and justice.
Jesus is saying to all men, “Repent, renew your minds, change your ways and stop trusting in the ways of the world and trust now in the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is taking over. The power and pomp of nations will pass like a dream away. Psalm 62 reminded us, “Do not trust in oppression. Do not vainly hope in robbery.” These are the ways of the world – taking advantage of the weak and oppressing them; stealing and accumulating for oneself. God’s kingdom is what will endure forever and the ways of the world will pass away. This is why Jesus is saying, “Your time is up; game over! Enough is enough. My kingdom is taking over!”
St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7, “The form (present scheme of things, way of life) is passing away. The world’s way of life is passing away so don’t trust in them anymore because we will perish with them. For three years, what Jesus did in His ministry was He proclaimed, enacted and manifested the kingdom of God by healing the sick, delivering those who are oppressed by the devil, forgiving sins, feeding people and showing them the ways of righteousness. He proclaimed that righteousness and justice have come and they should walk in them.
Jesus also trained people around Him. He got His first disciples to enact and manifest the kingdom of God. They are the first community of believers and followers to follow His footsteps. They are the first church. The Church is the people of God that Jesus called, after His example, to announce, to enact, to demonstrate and to manifest what the kingdom of God is about. This is why we are called ambassadors because we are the embodiment of what the kingdom of God is all about.
What is the kingdom of God? Righteousness and justice are the foundation of the Kingdom but it is the government, the rule of God over the nations of earth through Jesus Christ. His kingdom is not of this world, but it is in this world. The kingdom of God is not out there in the ethereal heavens and is of no earthly good. We pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” We want the kingdom of heaven to come here. We don’t want it to stay there and wait for us until we leave this earth and go there. No, we are asking God for His kingdom to come here and He answered that by the inauguration of the kingdom of God by Jesus when He came here 2,000 years ago. His kingdom will continue to increase because the ways of the world shall pass away like a dream away but the word of God, Jesus, the King of this kingdom, endures forever and this kingdom will have no end.
God’s kingdom is not to be relegated to a sacred place, for one hour a week and ten percent of our income so that we can get it out of our hair. The kingdom of God encompasses all things. It is coming here and breaking into our world from heaven; and it causes all nations, rulers, principalities, governments and all citizens on earth to submit to it. It confronts the system of Babylon which is greedy for money, power, and violent dominance. It rebukes the systems of injustice against the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the refugee - whom Jesus dearly loves.
In the Song of Mary, the Magnificat, Mary said that she magnifies the Lord because He scatters those who are proud and brought down rulers from their throne; He exalts the humble, fills the hungry with good things, and sends away the rich empty-handed. This is in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. The lofty hills will be brought low, the valleys will be exalted; and the crooked ways of the world will be made straight by the Kingdom’s ways.
The kingdom’s King, Jesus, judges nations on the basis of their treatment of the least. The good news is bad news to those who are oppressors; but it is good news to those who are oppressed. In this sense, the kingdom of God is political – not with guns, goods, and gold – but theocracy and political in the sense that it encompasses all nations and peoples. It is empowered by the spirit of compassion, of justice and of righteousness. It is not by might nor by power but by the power of the Spirit. The Kingdom is the (only) right alternative for ordering society and the world. The way of the world is leading us to a downward spiral to death and destruction. The kingdom of God is the only alternative that would give us life and that would save us from the way of death.
The kingdom of God is taking over and it is called Catholic. In Latin, it is ubique, semper et omnibus, What has been taught everywhere, always, and by all. It encompasses all and everywhere. It is not a sector. Christianity is not a religious sector. The kingdom of God is not relegated to a certain department where all others are alongside of it. No, it permeates all aspects of our lives, of government and of nations until the glory of the Lord covers the whole earth as the waters cover the sea and until all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of our Lord and Jesus shall reign forever. This is a threat to the profit and the gain, and the elite status and the privilege of those who are rich, the powerful and the oppressor. The greedy movers and the shakers resist the coming of the Kingdom. They don’t want the Kingdom to rock the boat. They want to maintain the status quo that is rigged for their profit.
Why was John the Baptist imprisoned by Herod? It is because he confronted the lifestyle of Herod with the way of the kingdom of God with regards to the affair that he had with his brother’s wife. Herod did not want to lose his power of impunity. Jesus and His apostles were persecuted as they resisted God’s rule for they were confronting the ways world. If the kingdom of God is all about going to heaven when we die, the powers and principalities won't care. When the Jews went to Pilate, he asked them, “What did this man do?” They said, “Jesus broke our religious law.” Pilate said, “What do I have to do with your laws? Is Jesus a threat to our empire?” The gospel is not just about spiritual things but the affairs of the world. Christianity is not just praying a prayer of salvation and thinking that we have done what we should and waiting for our bus to go to heaven. If this is Christianity, nobody will be persecuted by the political leaders. The gospel is a confrontation to the evil ways of the world, and this is what Christians are for – to enact and to manifest the kingdom of God.
John the Baptist taught the soldiers and the tax collectors as well. He told the soldiers not to steal money and oppress the people just because they are powerful. To the tax collectors, he told them not to engage in corruption anymore because this is not the way of the kingdom of God. The majority of the people (the poor, the oppressed, the victims of powerful) like this good news because there will be change.
In the gospel, Jesus called His first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James and John) and told them, “Follow Me.” They understood that He is calling them to fulltime ministry. They left their trade immediately. We live in a world that wants “immediate” things for us (i.e. food, downloading, streaming). What about immediately follow God to His calling for us? We should be immediate to our response to God, not to what we want.
The first disciples who immediately follow Jesus were fishermen, their centuries-old family trade, their identity and their security. They followed a carpenter who was from an obscure town claiming to be a rabbi and gathering students around Him. There was no certainty of compensation or security. They didn’t know Jesus was the Son of God nor did they know that He was going to perform miracles. They did not know that He was to die and to be resurrected. What made them follow Him? What made them say “Yes”?
There must be something about hearing the voice of Jesus calling us and only we would know it. To follow Jesus is always to give up something; it is Him or nothing. Our only guarantee is that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Eternal life is to know God the Father and Jesus. Our trust is to be in Him and in His presence is fullness of joy. A song goes, "He bids you to come and die; but Jesus being with us all the way is guaranteed." What is preached today is, “Bid you come and you will be a millionaire; bid you come and get a passport and your visa will be approved; bid you come and submit your application and you will be employed.” Bid we come and find that we will truly live when we do follow Jesus. One thing that Jesus guarantees us: He will be with us all the way.
The point is being with God, knowing Him and walking with Him, is now – not just in the sweet by and by because salvation is today. Be excited about our companion, not so much our destination. When I travel, what I look forward to is not the places, but the people that I will be with. The journey is as much as part of the destination. When watching a movie, we don’t skip to the ending for the plot is as important as the denouement. In raising children, there is a process. We don’t wish for them to skip their childhood days of changing diapers and training them. We are to savor and enjoy the process, not just the results, though it entails some difficulties.
Heaven is where God is. To know God is being in heaven. Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” He will “make us” something, not “take us” somewhere. He will make us into what He created us to be. Our molding process is part of the beauty of salvation, and because of this, we appreciate the love of God.
Actually, our goal is not a place but a divine stature. Our goal is to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. In theology, our goal is called: glorification, deification, and divinization. Be conformed to the image of Christ and it begins by saying “yes” to the call of Jesus and following Him as He enacts, announces, manifests and demonstrates the kingdom of God. Because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.