Monday, January 11, 2010

Repent, And Believe In The Gospel!

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I 1 Samuel 1:1-8
There was a certain man from Ramathaim,
Elkanah by name,a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim.
He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu,
son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.
He had two wives, one named Hannah, the other Peninnah;
Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless.
This man regularly went on pilgrimage from his city
to worship the LORD of hosts and to sacrifice to him at Shiloh,
where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas,
were ministering as priests of the LORD.
When the day came for Elkanah to offer sacrifice,
he used to give a portion each to his wife Peninnah
and to all her sons and daughters,
but a double portion to Hannah because he loved her,
though the LORD had made her barren.
Her rival, to upset her, turned it into a constant reproach to her
that the LORD had left her barren.
This went on year after year;
each time they made their pilgrimage
to the sanctuary of the LORD,
Peninnah would approach her
,and Hannah would weep and refuse to eat.
Her husband Elkanah used to ask her:
“Hannah, why do you weep, and why do you refuse to eat?
Why do you grieve?Am I not more to you than ten sons?”


The First Book of Samuel opens by introducing us to Elkanah, who comes from Ramathaim. According to the custom of the time, he had two wives, Penninah and Hannah. Although the union of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:23-44) seems to endorse monogamy as God’s intention, we know that many of the patriarchs were polygamous, some otherwise unfaithful, if not actually promiscuous. Recall that Sarai, the barren wife of Abram, told him to sleep with her servant Hagar, in order to have a son. Later, of course, Sarah does have a son, Isaac, who will be the patriarch of the people of Yahweh, while Ishmael, the son of Hagar, will be the patriarch of the people of Allah. But that, as they say, is another story.

Penninah had borne several children to Elkanah, but Hannah was barren, no doubt the most shameful and painful experience a married woman of those times could have. This was a culture where a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to give children, especially sons, to her husband, thus ensuring the continuance of the family line. (Of course, sometimes it is the husband who is sterile, but that is not the case here.)

Each year Elkanah made a pilgrimage with his family to Shiloh and offered sacrifice there. Three times a year every male Israelite was required to appear at the sanctuary of the Lord of Hosts (Yahweh of the armies). This ancient title was associated with the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred emblem that protected Israel whenever Yahweh waged war with his people against their enemies.

The festival referred to here was probably Succoth, the feast of Tabernacles, which commemorated God’s care for his people during their desert journey to the land of Canaan, and celebrated with joy and feasting, God’s blessing on the year’s crops. On such festive occasions, Hannah’s deep sorrow because of her barrenness was all the more poignant. On the day when he would offer sacrifice, Elkanah would give portions to Penninah and her children, but a double portion to Hannah, for “although the Lord had made her barren”, he loved her more. Penninah would mock and jeer at Hannah’s barrenness, and the situation went on year after year.

So, stricken with shame and distress, Hannah refused to eat. Elkanah, clearly a good and compassionate man, tried to console her by reminding her that she had a loving husband, and was he not worthy more to her than “ten sons”? As we will see, God is not going to forsake such good people, and so the stage is set for something quite special to happen.

It is easy for us sometimes to regret that God has not given us some gift we would dearly love to have. And perhaps we have been the target of other people’s criticism or mockery and asked, “Why did God do that to you?” Yet, God is active in our lives, and we need to trust him to help us to see where, even in our weaknesses, his love and grace are at work in us. We may be in for some wonderful surprises.

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Responsorial Psalm 116
To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.
How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
R. To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.

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Gospel Mark 1:14-20
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.


Today we begin reading from Mark’s gospel (1:14-20) and we will be following him for the next several weeks.

Today’s reading follows immediately on the short accounts of Jesus’ baptism and temptations in the desert. It is the beginning of his public ministry. The reading consists of two main parts – a summary of Jesus’ teaching and the first response to it.

As the passage opens we are told that John has been arrested (the reason for his arrest will be given later). The word for ‘arrest’ is literally ‘handed over’, a key word which will be used later of Jesus himself, his disciples and indeed of many others down the centuries. The term is also used in our Eucharist when the celebrant at the consecration says: “This is my Body which will be given up for you.” Our translation of ‘given up’ represents the Latin word tradetur which literally means ‘handed over’. Jesus is daily handed over to us, or rather, he hands himself over to us and expects us to do the same for our brothers and sisters.

Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News, of God. It is summed up in the words: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News. ” It is a deceptively simple statement which, in fact, is rich in meaning. One can say that the whole of the Gospel message is contained in those two sentences.

“This is the time of fulfillment”: the world "fulfillment" is a translation of the Greek word kairos. Kairos refers to a moment when something is ripe to happen, a serendipitous moment. This is an apt description of the appearance of Jesus, which the whole of the Old Covenant is preparing for and leading up to.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand”: The whole of Jesus’ message centers round the notion of the “Kingdom of God”. It was the coming of the Kingdom which he proclaimed; it was the core of his teaching. Because Matthew uses the term “Kingdom of heaven”, we might think of the “Kingdom” as belonging only to life after death. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The word “Kingdom” translates the Greek word basileia, an abstract noun that is better rendered as “kingship” or “reign”. It does not refer to a place, but points to the ruling power of God, a power founded on love. Love essentially involves other people, so the Kingdom of God is not a place, or an action, but an interactive complex of harmonious relationships among God’s children. “Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found.”

“Repent…”: Now we see the basic steps needed to become fully a “Kingdom person”. First of all, we need to repent. This verb is the most common translation of the Greek verb that corresponds to the noun metanoia. It is not a very good rendering. For most people, “repent” means being sorry for something done in the past. While that is not excluded here, metanoia looks much more toward the future. Metanoia means a radical change in one’s thinking, in this case, about the meaning and purpose of life, and how life is to be lived.

“… and believe in the Gospel”: How is metanoia to be achieved? By believing in the Gospel. For many Christians, belief means acceptance of the teachings of Christ as interpreted for us by the Church. But something more is being asked of us here. We are not asked just to be believe, but to believe IN. It is one thing to believe that something is true, but it may not affect our lives very much. By calling on us to believe IN the message of the Gospel, we are being asked for a total investment of ourselves, not merely accepting doctrines as true. We are being called to live our lives and pattern them on the model of Jesus himself. We will see what that entails as we read through the Gospel in the coming weeks.

The second part of the reading gives us a dramatic example of some people who did just what Jesus was asking for. As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother, Andrew, who were fishermen, casting their nets into the sea. They were doing their daily work. Jesus said to them: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of people.” There and then, they dropped their nets, their whole means of livelihood and went after Jesus. A little further on Jesus saw two sons of Zebedee, James and John, who were mending their nets. These two Jesus also called. They promptly left their father in the boat with his hired men and followed Jesus.

Here we have that metanoia, that radical change of life, taking place. They follow Jesus with total trust. As they go off, they have no idea where they are going or what it will entail. They believe IN Jesus, put all their trust in him. They were to meet many trials and tribulations on the way but they never regretted the step they took. Only by following their example will we too have the same experience. The only guarantee we have is that those who did take Jesus’ call seriously and lived it out to the full know that they made the right choice. Finally, we might say that this story is to be read as a kind of parable, because we know that later on the disciples will still be in contact with their families and those boats will appear several times in the Gospel story.

What is being emphasized here is the total commitment to the Way and vision of Jesus which is symbolized by the total abandoning of the boats and family members. Jesus did not tell Peter, Andrew, James and John to abandon their parents and other family members. Jesus said, “If you love your father and mother more than me, you cannot be my disciple.” If you say “I love God”, but do not love your brother (that is, everyone who is not yourself), whom you can see, how can you love God, whom you cannot see? (I John 4:20)

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

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