Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mk 1:15)
In less than a month, we begin Lent with Ash Wednesday (February 17, 2021). Due to present conditions, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of the Vatican issued a note as a guide to parishes throughout the world on how to celebrate the beginning day of Lent. According to the note, after the priest blesses the ashes, he then “addresses all those present and only once says the formula as it appears in the Roman Missal: ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel,’ or ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” The note continues, “The priest then cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask and distributes the ashes to those who come to him . . . The priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each person without saying anything.” (See the note of the Congregation on January 12, 2021). Two adjustments need to be highlighted: proclaiming the formula only once and sprinkling ashes on the head of each person. The Holy Scriptures today speaks about both.
First, the first reading today is taken from chapter 3 of the Book of Jonah. Probably for the sake of not being too lengthy, the Lectionary has omitted this verse: “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (Jon 3:6). Upon hearing the message of the prophet, the entire city, citizens and king, reformed their lives, rejecting the evil way and clinging to God. In fact, it was the king who led the city by his own example: sitting on ashes. When people sit on ashes or sprinkle themselves or their clothing with ashes, it is a sign of their willingness to turn toward God. So, ashes then are a sign of repentance!
No wonder the proclamation “Repent and believe in the Gospel” cannot be omitted during the distribution of ashes on the first day of Lent, albeit being proclaimed only once during the celebration this year. For us gathering in Church on this 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, this invitation of conversion is the first words of Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry as the Gospel according to Mark indicated: “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’” (Mk 1:14-15).
When Jesus used the word, repent or metanoia in Greek in the Gospel of Mark, we recall in the very same chapter, Mark indicated: “John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1:4). ] To repent/metanoia is the Baptist’s calling for a change of heart and conduct, a turning of one’s life from rebellion to obedience towards God. Jesus, the Savior of the world, walked in the same line of the prophet calling people to make a turn from disobedience to submission to the rule of God for “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To repent or to look at things up-side-down (literally this is the Greek) helps us recall: our first parents led the entire human race into sin by their disobedience; and now a 180-degree turn will lead to salvation. Jesus, the Savior, modeled for all of us in His submission to the Father’s will, “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8); and Christ invited His followers to obey God. No wonder after the invitation of “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus called his first disciples to be “fishers of men.”
My dear friends, we do not have to wait until Ash Wednesday. The Lord calls us at this present moment in our lives. The word of Jesus addresses us directly today: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”(Mk 1:14-15). Jesus’ invitation is urgent and perhaps to use the word of St. Paul in the second reading today: “the time is running out” (1 Cor 7:29), therefore REPENT!