THE TIME TO CHANGE YOUR DIRECTION IS NOW!
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
Responsorial Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,12-13,17
Second Reading: Romans 15:4-9
Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:1-12
Do you remember the last time you were lost? Chances are you were without a phone and probably without money too. In just a few decades we have gone from relying on paper and the kindness of strangers to finding our way to using digital maps. The digital revolution of wayfinding did not come from doing what paper maps did, but from creating new functionality. 67% of smartphone owners who use Google maps have seen that it not only gives one the quickest route to work without traffic, but also the ability to change one’s direction when a wrong route is followed by mistake. This CHANGE OF DIRECTION feature or functionality in Google can help us understand this Sunday’s message which is centered around CHANGE (METANOIA).
Beginning with the gospel reading, we are presented with the image of John the Baptist, who calls us to see our world and other people in new ways. This John is telling people they need to change. Change their preconceptions. Change their previous behaviours. Change their perspective of God’s Kingdom. This Jewish John mysteriously appears at the Jordan River—looking a lot like a modern “homeless man.” He announces that the Kingdom of God is coming in unexpected ways and invites the people to a baptism of repentance. The Greek word for repentance in this passage is “metanoia.” Metanoia is filled with remarkable meaning in the Gospels, but it’s also misunderstood. Most translations of the Bible use the English word “repentance” for metanoia. But “repentance” is a loaded term for many Christians. Today’, repentance has been interpreted to mean that you must feel extreme remorse or regret your sins. For centuries, Christians were taught they had to repent from their sins and do penance to be saved. Some of us grew up with exaggerated guilt or shame because pastors or priests condemned us because of what we had done or who we were. However, in the original Greek, metanoia has a different meaning. Metanoia comes from two Greek words. The first is “meta,” meaning “to change”—like in the word “metamorphosis.” A change in one’s body. Like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. The second Greek word “noia” translates as “mind,” referring to one’s mindset or worldview. Together they mean “change of mind.” Unlike the word “repentance,” metanoia isn’t restricted to a narrow interpretation. It’s a change of mind in how we view God’s love and one another and the world; ‘turning around,’ ‘moving in an opposite direction.’ Repentance for John is an action and it is not meant to be about feeling shame or feeling bad. It is instead about thinking differently and therefore acting differently, in order to place oneself in the proper disposition to receive God into their hearts – preparing a way for the Lord who is on his way, making his paths straight.
Thus, the coming Kingdom was John’s main theme. While the Gentile convert, Mark, uses the words “Kingdom of God,” Matthew follows the Jewish tradition of avoiding the use of God’s name by using the expression, “Kingdom of Heaven.” The Kingdom of God is a God-centered, God-controlled life. John wanted people to experience such a life. Everyone who wants to experience this “reign of God” needs to make a radical change in his or her life. That is the call for repentance. We cannot come under the sovereign rule of God without a change of attitude, a change of heart, and a change of lifestyle. John not only denounced men for what they had done, but he also summoned them to what they ought to do. That is why Matthew emphasized the new life of proper fruit-bearing more than the forgiveness of sins. Bearing good fruit is not just doing good things but also doing them for the right reason, that is the true definition of CHANGE.
Today’s gospel message for us has its roots in the First reading from the Prophet Isaiah, which presents a new vision of the coming messiah in a poetic and metaphoric way: “A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots.. He does not judge by appearances, he gives no verdict on hearsay but judges the wretched with integrity, and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.” (Isaiah 11:1-10). Isaiah’s metaphoric use of “Root of Jesse expresses the promise of a messianic king who would be born of David’s family line and focuses Judah’s expectation of survival on a sparse, leaderless remnant. The prophet uses a similar metaphor—“a shoot from the stock of Jesse” to describe their future hope. This “stock” signifies the remnant of Jesse’s family that would barely survive. God’s judgment was coming on Judah, and the nation would be left with nothing but a seemingly lifeless “stock,” but there would be life yet. God promised to retain a remnant to carry on His work and the bloodline of King David. What seemed to be a dead, decaying stock would bring forth new life in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In our lesson from Isaiah, even though the tree has been cut down—symbolizing the people’s failed covenant with God, there is still hope. Because God is going to do the unexpected – a change would occur. God is going to make a new tree sprout. A new tree of justice for the poor and oppressed. Not just an empty promise, but something that will happen in the holy today of God’s vision. The promise of metanoia: change on a grand scale. Brought to us not by a famous movie producer, but by the creator of the universe. A God who shows us that metanoia isn’t just a change within yourself. Metanoia also includes a change in how we deal with those who are different. Different in race. Different in economic status. Different in gender. Different in sexual orientation.
The Gospel vision we see in Isaiah is not that God takes away all those things that make us different. But finally, we can live together in harmony, even with those who disagree with us – a state of utopia. Like a lamb with a wolf. A calf with a lion. A vision that calls all people to metanoia. A change in mind and direction. A change in our community. A change that leads us to cry out for people of different tribes, colours, and languages, a change that spurs us to defend the rights of the vulnerable and elderly, for the marginalized and the poor, for the hungry and the powerless who have no voice. Just as Saint Paul says in the Second reading to the Romans that “It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you…” Above all, a change to challenge our society and world at large to prepare a way for God’s Kingdom to come among us today. If you have taken the wrong route, kindly make a change now!
Written by Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Loreto, Vila Mediros, São Paulo
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PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?