25 January 2009

CONVERSION: TURNING AWAY AND TURNING TOWARDS

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:14-20

Metanoiete – this is what Jesus meant in Mark’s gospel today. This is how Jesus began His public ministry: calling people to a metanoia. Even before Jesus called His collaborators in the task ahead of Him, He already announced that the kingdom of God is close at hand and, thus, the time has come for people to repent and believe in the Good News. Metanoiete is an imperative verb in Greek that means “convert”. Metanoia is its noun form: conversion. The repentance that Jesus admonishes His listener today is accomplished through conversion.

Quite commonly, many people consider conversion as turning away from sin. But that is only half of the process. The other half is turning towards something better that will help us achieve intimacy with God. Conversion is “turning away” so that we may “turn towards”. And if that “turning towards” is lesser than for the purpose of becoming closer to God, such a conversion is skin-deep, short-lived, and futile. The truth is it is no conversion at all. Without turning towards something that will bring us closer to God, turning away from sin may mean only this: turning away from one sin and turning towards another. Unfortunately, very often, the new sin one towards to is even worse than that from which one turns way.

The easiest and most effective way to kick a bad habit is to develop and reinforce a good one. For example, conquer tardiness by punctuality, defeat selfishness through charitable deeds, cut down on television viewing by giving more time to Bible-reading and to prayer, cease cheating during an exam by studying well prior to it, or stop lying by simply telling the truth.

Turn away from sin by turning toward God. And for a genuine conversion, it is always good to start with believing in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Belief in the Good News is manifested not only in our knowledge of it but also in our involvement in noble causes, such as pro-life advocacy, ecological concerns, urban poor housing, nuclear disarmament, anti-apartheid movement, or vigilance against graft and corruption in governance. Turning towards these worthy causes helps us turn away from sin – the challenge of the Good News of the Kingdom.

Because we sin, conversion is all of us. If indeed we turn away from our sins, towards what or towards whom do we turn? If not towards godly causes or towards God Himself, or we simply turn towards nothing or no one at all, ours is false conversion. In such a case, we need another Jonah, as in the first reading today, to warn us.

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