Weekly Reflection (24 Jan 2021)

3rd Sunday Year B

Jonah 3:1-5,10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Through sin, the world is conditioned into unbelieving. What is my response?

It is actually not hard to believe there is a God. If we care to look, we see God’s hand everywhere: the wonders of nature, the vastness of the universe, the intricacy of our human biology and the very existence of life itself. And for those of us who are interested in space and science, astrophysicists now say that at the Big Bang, if the four major forces of gravity, electromagnetic force, ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ nuclear forces were off by even 1:100,000,000,000,000,000, no stars could ever be formed and we would not exist. For this to happen by chance, it would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row! (In case you are wondering, 10 quintillion is 1 followed by 19 zeros!)

So, why doesn’t everyone believe in God then? The truth is, in one way of another, many of us are conditioned into unbelieving. This can happen in many ways.

Firstly, there are those of us who find it inconvenient to believe in God. All religion in the world has a moral code and a system of worship. For Christians, we preach the adherence to God’s Commandments; the repentance of sins; and the worship of God through prayers and church attendance on Sunday. This can be very inconvenient indeed, especially if I lead a busy life, juggling my time among career, family and leisure. So, I turn a blind eye and pretend God is not there. For those of us who conveniently forget about God, often God does not enter our consciousness unless there is a birth, marriage, death and crisis in our lives.

Secondly, there are those of us who are disenchanted by religion because of unpleasant past experiences. Perhaps I witnessed members of the Church behaving badly and was turned off by the hypocrisy. Perhaps someone in church did or said something that hurt me. Even more damaging is when we witness people in leadership positions in the Church committing wrongful acts and got away with them because of inaction or covering up by those who were in position to do something. This is not restricted to paedophilia which received much focus in recent times, but also other wrongdoings such as corruption, money laundering and other sexual crimes.

Thirdly, but not mutual exclusively, some of us took a deliberate decision to denounce God and His Church, in defiance of our hearts. Lured or misled by anti-Christian political activism, we mount campaigns to discredit and undermine God and the Church. We do so because Church teachings are inconsistent with how we want to lead our lives; or more cynically, because discrediting God and the Church earns us favours or helps advance our careers. It is perhaps not surprising that many of these who discredit God and the Church in fact have Christian upbringing. In Australia, we witness professed Christian politicians legislate against the sanctity of life and freedom of religion. In Tasmania, we witness a political activist hurling a church leader before the Equal Opportunity Commission for doing no more than simply stating Christian teaching on marriage. More recently in Western Australia, we witness a Christian charity organisation refused a government grant solely on the basis of its church leader’s biblical views on marriage. And for anyone who cares to look, such examples are abound.

In all these ways where the world is conditioned into unbelieving, there is one common driving force – it is sin, both within and outside the Church. Blinded by the sin of pride, anger, lust, greed, sloth and envy, the world has elevated human wishes and preferences beyond God’s. We have replaced the worship of God with the worship of self. This is in fact a modern form of zoolatry – the worship of animal deities. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” (Rom 1:22-23)

What is the solution to this world trend? Firstly, we need to turn away from sin. My brothers and sisters. Many of us are like the people of Nineveh in the First Reading. We live in sins but are conditioned into complacency and oblivion. If so, let this week’s Scripture message be like Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh. Let us heed the call of St Paul to the Romans, “it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Rom 13:11-14) In the Second Reading, St Paul emphasises on the urgency of conversion. He said, “the appointed time has grown short” (verse 29). He urged us to abandon all our other pursuits, whether we are mourning, rejoicing or dealing, “for the present form of this world is passing away” (verse 30-31). In the Gospel, Jesus conveyed a similar message before He called His first disciples: “the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (verse 15).

Secondly, having “put on the armour of light” (Rom 13:12), God is calling us to be His prophets. Christianity needs a new generation of prophets in every sphere of modern life. We need church leaders who dare to venture beyond the comfort of their church compound to preach God’s love to the world. Within the Church, we need strong and principled leaders who dare to take strong actions to snub out wrongdoings of church members and other church leaders. In business, we need Christian business leaders who uphold ethics and do not succumb to the lure of greed and power. In politics, we need Christian politicians who dare to act out their Christian convictions. In social circles, we need Christians who dare to exhibit and share the joy of Jesus with their non-believing friends.

My dear friends, whatever is our sphere of life, we have a role to play. Let us ask ourselves: Is God calling me to be his prophet? What is my response? Do I look at the challenges before me and ask God to look elsewhere? Am I like Moses who said to God, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex 4:10)? Or perhaps, I am like Jonah in this week’s First Reading. Nineveh was an Assyrian city whose inhabitants led evil ways of lives. God called Jonah to convert them, but Jonah preferred the people of Nineveh to be punished for their sins, so he tried to ran away. Perhaps Jonah was also concerned about the potential hostile reception he might receive in Nineveh. Or perhaps Jonah was not confident of his chance of success. Whatever is Jonah’s reason for his initial reluctance, to his surprise, upon hearing from Jonah, the people of Nineveh accepted God’s message and repented (verse 5).

Just as Jesus called Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John in the Gospel, He is calling me. Perhaps like these fishermen, I too had my worldly reservations. In the Gospel, when Jesus called, Simon Peter and Andrew were casting their net into the sea (verse 16); while James and John were mending their nets (verse 19). Like me, these fishermen too must have led busy lives, worrying about their work, family and finances. However, upon being called by Jesus, they responded in the same way the people of Nineveh did – they abandoned all their worldly pursuits and followed God. Simon Peter and Andrew “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Verse 18); while James and John “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men” and followed Jesus (verse 20).

How about me? What is my response to Jesus’ call?

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