Readings: Isaiah 8: 23-9:3; Psalm 27, R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.; 1 COR 1:10-13, 17; Gospel – Matthew 4: 12-23
This Sunday’s Gospel tells the story of the beginning and a foundational understanding of Jesus’ mission, and thus our own mission.
It opens with the news of the arrest of John the Baptist, a turning point moment for Jesus. Recall how much Jesus admired and praised John’s person and work. The arrest must have shaken Jesus—like how we say in Filipino, “natauhan.”
He begins his ministry with this proclamation: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
With this proclamation, which embodies his core vision and inspiration—establishing the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of his Father—he invites his first followers: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Equally dramatic is the response of his first disciples: “At once they left their nets and followed him… Immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”
Here you have the elements of mission. Mission requires a bold vision or a big, hairy, audacious goal (“BHAG” of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras), which can often be triggered or articulated by a life-changing or defining experience.
This BHAG excites people, attracting and inspiring them to follow the leader who articulates and embodies it. Jesus’ BHAG is establishing the Kingdom of his Father, attracting his early community of 12.
Through his ministry that concretized his BHAG, he gained more disciples. Plus, the crowds that followed him wherever he went was proof of concept, so to speak, that he had not just a solid or core following, but one that was also large and broad-based.
For Jesus’ mission, another set of characteristics make up another core element. The mission was to proclaim, to teach and to heal.
It proclaimed the fundamental truth that God’s Kingdom is at hand. It is in our midst, in the here and now. The technical term is the proleptic presence of the Kingdom, already here but not yet in its fullness.
The teaching furthers and deepens the understanding of this proclamation. It articulates the core values through words and deeds, the concrete expression in the work and life of Jesus and his followers.
The synthesis of the mission is the healing—not just a physical healing, but one that leads to wholeness of body, mind, heart and soul. This wholeness is what makes us seek and discover, or rediscover, our mission.
Let me end on a personal note. Twenty five years ago, I came home from studies as a newly ordained Jesuit priest. I came home to the Ateneo de Manila High School with a BHAG: to make the Ateneo de Manila High School the best Jesuit High School in Asia.
This stemmed from my personal BHAG I had set 15 years early then, 40 years ago now. It came during a life-defining moment, when, as a young teacher, I sat with a student who wept while expressing to me the pain of being in a broken family.
We sat in silence after I had told him to just let it out because I knew how it felt. At that moment, I told myself that I can teach for the rest my life—to help young people heal and become whole, and to discover their meaning and purpose, their life mission.
Having grown up myself in a broken family with very little adult guidance, I knew the pain. At that moment, my life healed and became whole. I had discovered my mission and chose to dedicate my life to it.
God was gracious through the years. A decade and a half after, he confirmed my choice and deepened my understanding of my mission, to love students into excellence, forming them into loving persons who will live life to love and to serve.
Since God led me to become a school principal then, it evolved into loving my teachers into excellence, so that they may love their students into excellence and live their life as mission-inspired teachers.
Another decade later, God led me to an even bolder path— to leave my comfort zone, the Ateneo, where I had spent 40 years of my life, and the Jesuits, the religious order with whom I was about to celebrate my 22nd anniversary.
“Go! God wants you to do this.” With these words, my life changed toward what is a more faithful living out of my mission, my BHAG which had aligned more with Jesus’ BHAG.
I left the Ateneo and asked to be dismissed from being a Jesuit for me to do full-time my current work with public school teachers. It had not been an easy decade and a half, but God was and is always faithful. He gave assurances.
Doing what God wants me to do is being part of Jesus’ mission to establish the Kingdom of God here and now: one teacher at a time, one principal at a time, one school at a time, one community at a time, one city at a time, one student at a time, one Filipino youth at a time who will dream of a better life because she/he knows there is a good public school to enroll in.
“Go! God wants you to do this.” Today, this is what matters most. It is the only thing that matters.