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We are Fishers of Men

We are Fishers of Men

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

January 24, 2021

Mark 1:14-20

We once again listen to the story of the calling of the first disciples: Simon and Andrew, as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus called them, and He would make them ‘the fishers of men.’ Yet, from countless possibilities of professions and occupations, why did they have to be ‘the fishers of men’? Why not merely Jesus’ promotion team? Why not Jesus’ soldiers?

The answer is not far from who the first disciples were. They were fishermen of Galilee. Yet, this time, they were no longer catching fish but gathering people for Christ. While they left almost everything behind and followed Jesus, they brought their lives, characters, experiences, and skills with them. They remained fishermen, but this time Jesus transformed the object of their catch: men and women.

The second reason why they were called ‘fishers of men’ is even more profound. It speaks of the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s prophesy. The great prophet Jeremiah who lived around 500 years before Christ, once said, “For I will bring them back to their land that I gave to their ancestors. I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them… [Jer 16:15-16].” The historical context of this prophecy is critical. After Salomon’s reign, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two smaller kingdoms. The northern kingdom was the coalition of 10 tribes, and the southern kingdom was the tribe, Judah and Benjamin. In 721 SM, the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrian empire, and the ten tribes were deported to foreign lands. Then in 587 SM, the southern kingdom was demolished by the Babylonian empire, and the inhabitants were brought to the Babylonian lands. Jeremiah prophesied that God would bring back the scattered Israelites by sending ‘fishermen.’

By calling His first disciples as ‘fishers of men,’ Jesus was fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jesus was gathering back the lost tribes of Israelites to Himself as the new Israel. This is why Jesus called and chose twelve apostles. The twelve apostles shall serve as the leaders of the new twelve tribes of Israel.

The identity and mission as ‘fishers of men’ are primarily for the apostles, yet every baptized Christians are sharing in this identity. We are fishers of men and women for Christ. Some of us may be called to get a quantity gain, like a priest who baptized thousands of people. Some of us may be invited to have a quantity yield, like parents who raise and educate their children as mature and responsible Catholics. Some of us stand in between these two kinds of catches, like zealous catechists, courageous lay missionaries, faithful religious sisters who take care of schools or orphanages, or indefatigable community leaders.

Surely to be a fisherman is not a stress-free job. Sometimes, we are facing storms and dangers. Sometimes, we are getting nothing after our best effort. Occasionally, we get in a disagreement with our fellow fishermen. However, the Gospel reminds us that we are not fishermen because we are good, but because Jesus calls us and makes us His fishermen. We draw our purpose and strength from Jesus because we are participating in Jesus’ mission to gather people to Himself. We are working together with apostles to fulfill God’s promise of the New Israel. We are the fishers of men.

 Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

Jesus, Our Lamb of God

Jesus, Our Lamb of God

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time [B]

January 17, 2021

John 1:35-42

John the Baptist identified Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God.’ If we are attending the celebration of the Eucharist, we cannot miss hearing this phrase. Just before the communion, the priest will hold the consecrated bread and wine, and present them to the faithful, then saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him who takes away the sin of the world. Happy are those invited to the supper of the Lamb!”

I am a cradle Catholic, and I could no longer remember when I heard this Lamb of God for the first time. Yet, I never bother asking why Jesus is called such because it does not make much sense. Perhaps, it is just another fancy title of Jesus. I gradually learn this beautiful truth as I go deeper into my theology study and scriptures.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples who were living in the first century Palestine, we will see a lot more going on. When the disciples heard ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” they quickly understood. It was undoubtedly mind-blowing, but they were expecting to hear that.

  Firstly, a lamb was a primarily sacrificial animal in the Jerusalem temple. Every day lambs were slaughtered and offered to God. Especially during the feast day of Passover, thousands of lambs were brought to the Temple and sacrificed. It was a massive display of devotion to behold. Though the lamb’s sacrifice is not the only way to worship the true God, it serves as the ordinary way of worship. By calling Jesus the Lamb of God, we acknowledge that God’s true worship takes place in Jesus.

Secondly, one of the most important Jewish feasts is Passover. It celebrates the freedom from the slavery of God. One of the central features of this celebration is the sacrificed lamb. The Book Exodus gives the details of how the Passover has to be commemorated. An unblemished one-year-old lamb has to be slaughtered. Its blood was placed on the Jewish household doorpost, and its roasted body shall be eaten [see Exo 12]. To accept Jesus as the Lamb of God, we recognize that the sacrifice and blood of Jesus save us, and we need to eat also His body.

Thirdly, one prophesy that connects a person, and a lamb is from Isaiah. The great prophet spoke about the mysterious figure of ‘suffering servant of God.’ This man shall redeem Israel, but He has to endure great suffering and death, despite being innocent.  The prophet wrote, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter… [Isa 53:7].” By receiving Jesus as the Lamb of God, we accept Jesus as our Redeemer who has to suffer and die for us.

Now, we have recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God; we need to do like the first disciples did: they remained with Him. The disciples did not merely know and accept Jesus, but they followed and stayed with Him. It is not enough for us to see Jesus as the Lamb, but we are invited to remain with Him, to become His true disciples.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

Baptism and the Cross

Baptism and the Cross

Baptism of the Lord

January 10, 2021

Mark 1:7-11

Baptism of the Lord is one of the defining moments in the life of Jesus. The synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark and Luke] writes this event, though with their own perspective and emphasis. We are in the liturgical year B, and thus, we are listening from the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s version is noticeably the shortest, but it does not mean it does not deliver powerful message. The Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan is a turning point in Jesus’ life. After this Jesus will be in the desert for 40 days, tempted by the devil, but he will prevail. Then, from this, Jesus will begin His public ministry, and unreservedly move toward Jerusalem, to Cross, Death and Resurrection.

Often, we ask, “why should John baptize Jesus?” We are well aware that John’s baptism is an outward sign of inner repentance. If a person repents, it means that the person has been living a sinful life. Does it mean that Jesus is a sinful man, therefore He asks for John’s baptism? Surely, Jesus who is God, is perfectly sinless, but the question remains, “why should Jesus be baptized?”  Mark does not give us a straight answer, yet the Church offers us the reason. Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners… Already he is anticipating the “baptism” of his bloody death… [CCC 536].”

Simply put, Jesus’ baptism speaks of this solidarity with us sinners, and this solidarity does not stop in the symbolic baptism of John, but this will find its fulfillment in the cross. As sinners, we deserve to die, but it is God who dies for us. The Church’s answer is beautiful, but is it truly in the mind of the evangelists, especially Mark?

When Jesus is baptized, Mark describes the sky is ‘torn apart’ and a voice came, “You are my Son, the Beloved…” The Greek word for ‘tearing apart’ is ‘schizo,’ and the same word is employed again by Mark when he recounts the happening in the Temple when Jesus died on the cross: the giant curtain that separates the holy place and the holiest place inside the Jerusalem temple [see 15:38]. Meanwhile, Mark also recounts a Roman centurion proclaims that Jesus is truly the Son of God, after witnessing remarkable events during Jesus’ death. From here, we can draw an interesting insight. With this basic pattern between what happens in baptism and in the cross, Mark is telling us that these two events are indeed related. The Baptism points to the Cross, and the Cross is the fulfillment of the Baptism.

It reveals the reason why the Father is so ‘so well pleased with His Son.’ The reason is through baptism, Jesus signals to all of us His eagerness to do His Father’s will. Though Jesus is sinless, He takes up our burden of sin and dies for us as proof of the Father’s love for us.

If in His baptism, Jesus accepts the cross, we, as the baptized Christians, are also called to carry our crosses. As we share Christ’s cross and carry it faithfully, we can hope to love radically. As we love deeply, we may hope for our salvation.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

We are the Magi

We are the Magi

The Feast of Epiphany

January 3, 2021

Matthew 2:1-12

The Christmas season ends with the feast of Epiphany of the Lord or the Feast of the Three Kings. However, if we read the Gospel carefully, we will discover that one who visited Jesus is magi, and the word “king” is not used to describe them. The Gospel of Matthew also reveals neither their number nor names. St. Matthew only speaks of three gifts offered: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Magi is coming from the Greek word ‘magos’, and it is the same root word for magic. In his book ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,’ Pope Benedict XVI explains that Magi have a wide range of meanings. In one sense, it may point to a black magician like Simon the Magician [see Acts 8:9-24], but in another sense, the magi may refer to the philosophers of noble birth coming from the land of Persia. Ancient philosophers are educated people who devoted themselves to the pursuit of wisdom. This is the reason why we call the magi as also the wise men. It seems that the wise men have eventually discovered through their careful study, that the great king who is the embodiment of wisdom herself has been born in the land of Judea.

Are they kings? The Church recognizes that the magi who brought three particular gifts are the fulfilment of ancient prophecy. Isaiah said, “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you… bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD [Isa 60:3-4,6; which is our first reading].” In short, Isaiah prophesized that the light will guide kings, and they will come and bring gifts of gold and frankincense, and praise the Lord. The magi match the description of Isaiah’s prophecy, and from here, we can also say that the magi are also kings who were guided by the light of the star and offered precious gifts to Jesus. They might be indeed kings of small nations or perhaps, members of royalty, otherwise Herod the great would not have received them in his palace and welcome them cordially.

What about their names? Writing from the 8th century, ‘Excerpta Latina barbari,’ introduces them as Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar. Whether these are their real name or not, we are never sure. However, we are invited to have the spirit and character of these wise men.

To find Jesus, they left their homes’ comfort and embarked into a long and challenging journey. They also learned to open their hearts as they discovered that the great king is not in the Herod’s palace, but a poor home of Joseph and Mary. Ultimately, they humbled themselves before Jesus as they worshipped Him and offered the best gifts representing their lives. Then, they may go home with great joy.

Epiphany means God’s manifestation to the nations, yet this manifestation requires the magi to get up, search, and be humble. We are the magi. We are invited to look diligently for Jesus. To be baptized, catholic is undoubtedly excellent, but it is just the first step of our incredible journey. We are called to go deeper into the beauty of our faith. We are challenged to see Jesus in even the most unexpected places. Unless we go out and seek, we never find. It is because we are the magi.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

Emmanuel

Emmanuel

Christmas Day [B]

December 25, 2020

Luke 2:1-14

Christmas is one of the most beautiful and joyous times of the year. Christmas is the time to gather with the families and friends and to have an exchange of gifts. Christmas is the time to put up Christmas trees, place Nativity scenes, and play Christmas songs. Surely, Christmas is the time when families once again go to the church together.

However, this year, things do not go as we want them to be. The pandemic caused by Covid-19 continues to plague our societies, and it significantly affects how we do things and relate with one another. Some of us can no longer go home because of our nature of professions or travel restrictions. Some of us will not attend the beautiful Christmas vigil liturgy because the Church remained closed. Some of us have no special meals on the table because the poor economy hits us hard. For some of us, it is just a lonely and sad Christmas because some of our family members are sick or even have passed away.

Is this still a Christmas? In these difficult situations, all the more, we are invited to reflect on the mystery of Incarnation. The drama of salvation begins with a little baby with His poor parents. Joseph was David’s son, yet he was no more than a poor carpenter, who cannot even provide a decent place for his wife to give birth. Mary was a young mother who had to endure unimaginable shame and various threats to her life. And, at the center of Christmas is the baby boy who is God and yet chose to be born in the most unworthy place of all, a cave filled with animals. He did not opt for much grander places like a royal palace or a magnificent castle. He did not decide to be wrapped with a purple royal garment, but a simple linen cloth. He did not select a golden and comfortable bed, but an unhygienic stone manger.

Looking at the circumstances, Jesus’ birth is not that impressive, but this is what makes the mystery of Incarnation touch every human heart. He did not come as an imposing and authoritarian king like Augustus. He did not come as a shrewd military leader like Julius Caesar. He did not come as a smart politician like Herod. God comes to us as the weakest baby in the humblest place. He is a God who radically loves us and wills to embrace even our weak nature.

Christmas reminds us that Jesus is with us when we are broken by economic conditions; Jesus is with us when we cannot be with our loved ones. Jesus is with us when we are losing our family members. The first Christmas points to us that God does not always spare us from suffering, but He promises to be with us in these terrible times.

One of my friends just lost his father due to Covid-19. It was sudden and untimely death. And what made it very painful is they could not give the last farewell for him as the remain brought immediately to the cemetery. When I had a chance to talk to him, I discovered he could accept the death, and then I asked him the reason. He narrated to me that before his father was admitted to the hospital, he gave his father a brown scapular. He also learned that his father passed away when he was praying the rosary. He believed that his father was not alone when he died; God is with him. Indeed, Jesus is the Emmanuel: God is with us.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

Merry Christmas!