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INAUGURATION OF A NEW AGE
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
There are times when it seems our sacred texts cannot readily help us examine what is going on in our lives right now. Sometimes, rather than starting with the narratives found in scripture books, it can be more productive to begin with the wisdom of contemporary voices.
The inauguration of Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States was one of those uplifting times when the prose, prayers, poetry and songs help us gain a new perspective on our biblical texts.
Many of the words heard at the inaugural echoed what we often hear in churches, synagogues, mosques and shrines every week — unity, service, justice, and peace. The inaugural twist was that these terms are the keys to preserve a republic built upon democracy.
When the Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman recited, “We’ve braved the belly of the beast,” she provided a fortuitous segue into the biblical texts for today. While in the belly of the whale, Jonah (3:1-5, 10), full of fear and doubt, is transformed. He emerges to take up his prophetic job. He boldly tells the Ninevites it is time for them to change the way they have been living.
Like Nineveh  our nation has been swallowed up by the lack of attention to what is true. While many Americans live rather comfortably millions more continue to suffer from various inequities and prejudices. Jonah did not want to be the one to tell the Ninevites they needed to change their ways. We, too, are often remiss in our prophetic role to challenge the status quo, to foster a common good.
Having been tested, now we are summoned to be united in an effort to restore our nation. If the poet Gorman is right that we are “a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished” we still have work to do together.
Our identity as a Catholic church, a sacrament of unity, has also been weakened. In fact, many Christian religions and their leaders are divided over grave issues that affect American lives. Jonah’s experience nudges all of us to find ways to transform the religions we belong to, the societies we live in. This is what Jesus also taught his followers.
In today’s gospel (Mark 1:14-20) Jesus tells his listeners a new kingdom is near and that repentance is required to embrace it. A biblical definition of “repentance" is to have a change of mind, heart, and action. Jesus recruited disciples to build up his coalition, to spread his message.
The term “new kingdom” is not a reference to the end of the world or to a heavenly place but to the realization of God as the primary and powerful wellspring for living here and now. It is in this sense that a change of heart is a necessary first step to make things right in our lives. How do we actually do this?
In commenting on the socio-political situation when Mark’s gospel was written, theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote it was a time to “de-script” from empirical and religious exploitation. This direction suggests a movement away from any ideology that blocks the out the presence of a holy Spirit among us. But Brueggemann also warned, “We have forgotten what has been entrusted to us.”
According to Osvaido Vena  Jesus recruited disciples not to leave a “hostile world” but to create an environment where the word of God abides in all of us. Bluntly, Jesus is calling us “to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.”  The damage done by the defeated president is very deep leaving rifts for us to repair in our country, our religions and ourselves. We are not finished.
While we can continue to celebrate the passage from a failed presidency to a more civil, kind, and hopeful one, each of us must do our part like Jonah, Jesus and others working in the vineyard.
In speaking about the American aspiration on the eve of the inauguration, Vice President Kamala Harris reminded us, “Even in dark times, we not only dream, we do. We not only see what has been, we see what can be. We shoot for the moon, and then we plant our flag on it. We are bold, fearless, and ambitious. We are undaunted in our belief that we shall overcome; that we will rise up.”
1. Ancient Nineveh is now modern day Mosul, Iraq. Once in history the region around Nineveh, with its hanging gardens, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
2. Profesor de Nuevo Testamento, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill., USA
3. Ched Myers, quoted by Osvaido Vena. In the Bible catching fish represents judgement upon extremely wealthy power brokers. See Jeremiah 16:16, Amos 4:2.