THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD’S UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FOR US IN JESUS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JONAH 3:1-5, 10; 1 COR 7:29-31; MK 1:14-20 ]
The heart of Jesus’ proclamation in His ministry is the Good News from God. He said, “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.”
What is the Good News that Jesus has come to preach that demands our repentance? The Good News clearly does not consist of words but a person. Jesus has come to proclaim not some doctrines or some timeless truths about God, life and the world. He did not come to teach us theology, catechism or a philosophy of life. Rather as the gospel says, Jesus began His ministry by proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God.
What is this kingdom of God that is close at hand? The kingdom is not a place or a territory like the earthly kingdom. The kingdom is not a noun but a verb. This kingdom is nothing else but the reign of God’s love. So Jesus is saying that God’s love is now present and because His love is here, we are saved. We are now called to believe in this central message of Jesus that God loves us. Our salvation is so near the moment, we say “yes” to this Good News. The reign of God’s love of course is not an idea or simply a hope but concretely manifested in Jesus’ ministry. In His preaching and healings we see the power of God’s rule over Satan and the Evil one. The exorcisms performed by Jesus affirm that God’s love rules in our lives.
Most of all, in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, we see the reign of God’s love over the sinfulness of man. Even when man rejected Jesus and betrayed His love, Jesus, the unconditional love of God in person, continued to suffer for us. In His suffering on the cross, there was no sign of resentment against His Father or against His enemies and His friends who betrayed Him. On the contrary, His love for His Father empowered Him to surrender His life and His work into the hands of the Father; whereas His love for us allowed Him to surrender His physical life to His enemies. At the cross, rather than uttering words of hatred, He interceded on behalf of His enemies and pleaded to the Father, asking for their forgiveness.
The full content of the Good News of course is seen in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. By raising Jesus from the dead, God showed His triumph over evil and over sin. The last word is not sin, suffering and death but love and life. By raising Jesus from the dead, God also vindicated and confirmed that Jesus is truly the Son of God and therefore the embodiment of His love and forgiveness for us. Finally, in the sending of the Holy Spirit, God’s love is now poured into our hearts and His love now reigns in us. To anyone who accepts Jesus, he or she too is made the son and daughter of God, sharing in His dignity of sonship, His sufferings and also His glory.
This, in a nutshell, is what the Good News is all about. Such is the Good News that Jesus has proclaimed to us. In the face of the Good News, what should our response be? We must repent. But the call to repentance does not sound like good news. In fact, we fear repentance. Many of us do not wish to repent. We prefer to continue our old way of life. Repentance is a bad word because it means giving up what we like to do. At most, like the Ninevites, we may repent out of fear for the consequences of our sins, not because we truly wish to give up our sins.
Even then, some of us might feel that we do not have any sins. It means therefore that they do not need the Good News. Hence, it is important to distinguish the preaching of Jonah and that of Jesus. The preaching of Jonah was a preaching of repentance from sins. The emphasis was a moral repentance. In other words, for Jonah, and indeed the rest of the prophets in the Old Testament until that of John the Baptist, repentance simply meant to turn away from sin so that we will not face the consequences of our sins. To repent was to turn back and reform one’s life. It meant to observe the commandments that they had received.
However, for Jesus, repentance is not so much turning away from sins. Rather, repentance is turning to the Lord. By turning to the Lord, one indirectly turns away from sin. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia”, which means not simply a change of mind but to put on the mind of Christ, or rather, to put on Christ. It means to reorient one’s attitude to God in the face of His coming kingdom. In other words, repentance is more than just giving up sins and our old way of life.
Rather, it is to actively take up the life of Jesus since Jesus is the kingdom of God in person. It is to believe that Jesus is the Good News in person and that He has come to show us the way to receive God in our lives. That is why, for us Christians, repentance is simply to believe that Jesus is the Good News of God’s love. It is to cling to that love given to us gratuitously in Christ Jesus by the free and sovereign initiative of God.
Once we recognize Jesus as the love of God in person, then repentance ultimately is to commit ourselves to the person of Jesus. It is a personal relationship with Him whereby Jesus becomes our master, the one from whom we take our direction in life. However, Jesus is more than a guru or a wise teacher; He is also our Lord and God. Hence, commitment to Jesus is a commitment to Him and His person and all that He stands for. Repentance is to follow Jesus all the way to the cross and to the resurrection because we believe that just as He conquered sin and death through the cross, we too must follow the same path.
Of course, to commit ourselves to Jesus is ultimately to live the life of the kingdom, here and now, which is to live a life with God. In this sense, repentance secondarily means conversion of life, for if we believe that Jesus is the love of God, we would then be able to take Jesus at His Word and recognize that He is the one who will free us from bondage of sin and has the key to the fullness of life and love. When we come to know Jesus as a person, then we want to come for mass daily, read the Word of God so that we can find strength and encouragement. We would want to love and serve selflessly and humbly like Jesus because we know through Jesus that this is the way to life.
The Good News is that when we commit ourselves to Jesus, then we no longer have to live in fear. For with Jesus, we know that happiness is not dependent on what we have but how we live our life. Indeed, like St Paul in the second reading, we are exhorted to live in the spirit of detachment from the world. This does not mean that we condemn the world. No, St Paul is not condemning sex or marriage or the pleasures and joys of life.
Rather, it is important that we see all these things in perspective. We must not treat this world, its structures and relationships as ultimate. We must realize that this life is short. Such thought should not make us conclude that this being the case, we should just eat and drink and be merry because we will then be no more. On the contrary, our lives continue even after this world. Life is not destroyed but only transformed. That is to say, we must not live as if we have only this world to live. We are passing through. Hence, it is important that we do all we can to share in the life of Jesus which is a life of service and love in humility.
And because life is short, we want to live the best kind of life that is possible, which is the life of God. We want to make sure that we will complete this life without regret by living a life of love and service. In the same vein, because time is short, it also helps us to be aware that suffering in this life is temporary. We should not be too preoccupied and discouraged when we suffer in life, for all these things will pass. At any rate, God will give us the strength and grace to overcome them if we turn to Him. For God, nothing is impossible.
Hence, we who are believers of the Good News should be the happiest people on earth. We know our purpose in life and how we can arrive at the fullness of life at the end of our history. Most of all, we also know how to get there. God has shown us the way in Jesus and given us the Holy Spirit present in the Church, in her teachers and in the sacraments to help us and strengthen us in our journey to fullness of life.
Yes, repentance brings freedom and joy to the Christian. It is not to be seen as something against us where much effort is required. Repentance is to accept the incredible offer of freedom and joy in believing in Jesus. When we take hold of the Good News and respond to the love of God in Jesus, we will be set free. Like the apostles, we must be ready to surrender all our agenda and follow Him. The question is, whether you will make yourself available to Jesus like the apostles who dropped everything to follow Him. Until we respond like the apostles, the Good News cannot happen in us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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