3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time January 24, 2021
The First Reading
The Book of Jonah is among the prophetical books of the Bible, but it differs significantly from its counterparts in that it does not contain any visions or prophesies. The Book of Jonah is more about the life of the prophet Jonah than it is about prophesies. It was written most likely in the fifth century B.C. which places it following the Babylonian Exile. It is a mere four chapters and a total of 48 verses. It is a story that packs quite a punch for its brevity.
Many of us are familiar with the tale of Jonah, most especially with his refusal to follow God’s call. God called Jonah to be a prophet, and to take his message of mercy and forgiveness to the Gentiles of Nineveh. Ninevah was one of the largest ancient cities. It was located along the Tigris River, in what is modern day Mosul, Iraq. The Ninevites were enemies of Israel. Jonah flat out refused and going in the total opposite direction of Nineveh, got on a boat, and set off to sea. We all know how the story ends. Jonah is swallowed by a huge fish and remains in its belly for three days (the tomb like experience is not to be missed) before being released on the shores of Nineveh.
This week's pericope comes midway through the story. Jonah has just been spewed upon the shores of Ninevah. The first verse of chapter three actually reads, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time." We can see right away that a second time has been omitted from the pericope. Jonah refused God's word the first time, and now having had his prayer of distress answered, God is making his request of Jonah again. How often are we like Jonah in this regard? God desires something of us, but it conflicts with our desires. We therefore refuse God's will in favor of our will? In essence we make it all about us, when in reality we should be all about God. We all have a little Jonah in us at times.
Chapter three deals with the conversion on Ninevah. We are told of the city's enormous size and yet Jonah had barely travelled a day into the city proclaiming God's message when the entire city converts and turns from their evil ways. Verses six through nine are missing from this pericope, but they further describe the great length that the Ninevites undertook to demonstrate the sincerity of their conversion. It was dramatic and sincere.
The moral of the story is clear. When God calls we must respond. We must obey. Contrast the response of Jonah to the will of God with the response of the Ninevites. God commanded Jonah and Jonah refused. He ended up spending three days in the belly of a large fish before God released him and he was willing to obey God. The Ninevites on the other hand turned from their sinful ways and obeyed God’s message with Jonah only traveling through a third of the city.
Last week’s reading spoke to the calling received by the disciples, which is a calling we all share in by virtue of our Baptism. Yet, there are many things God continues to call us to throughout our life with repentance and conversion among them. This week's reading builds on that theme by demonstrating that when God calls, we must obey without hesitation. Resistance is futile because God actively pursues us throughout our lives. God’s not going to go away or give up on us because we refuse to do his will. Furthermore, our eternal soul and happiness is solely dependent upon living according to the will of God. Christ has purchased our freedom, but we have now been charged with the responsibility of holding fast to the salvation won for us through Christ. We do that by being Christ-like and living according to God’s will.
Recall a time in your life when God may have been asking something of you and you resisted that calling. Why did you resist? What was the outcome? Recall a time in your life when you responded “yes” to something God may have been asking of you. What was the outcome? Under which response did you find true happiness, contentment, and fulfillment?
Whereas our first reading today speaks of the need and importance of responding “yes” when God calls us or asks something of us, our second reading adds a sense of urgency. We do not have the luxury of sitting around pondering our decision. We are living in the final age. When Christ comes again in his glory, time will end, and while no one knows the hour of his coming, we can be certain that our time in this world is limited and will most certainly come to an end through our own natural death. So in heeding Paul’s words we must detach ourselves from worldly things and worldly influences because they often hinder our response to God and our willingness to live according to his will. Our “yes” must be wholehearted and complete. Let nothing stand in the way of your relationship with God.
What are some of the worldly things that distract you from your relationship with God? What in your life keeps you from fully embracing God’s will for you? What steps can you take to reduce or eliminate such obstacles?
This week's Gospel portrays yet another version of the calling of the disciples. Last week we heard John’s version of events, and this week we examine Mark's. While the event is being repeated this week, the circumstances are very different, and hence the message too is quite different. During Jesus’ time, it was commonplace for a disciple to seek out a rabbi. Rabbis did not seek out disciples. Yet here we see Jesus doing just that. This is very significant, because it demonstrates that our relationship with God is at his initiative. We cannot have a relationship with God unless he reveals himself to us. Recall last week’s first reading from Samuel for instance. Jesus’ calling the disciples also sets him apart from the rabbis of his time and reveals to us that there is more to this Jesus character than meets the eye. He’s certainly no “ordinary” rabbi.
Also of great importance is the response of the disciples. Today’s Gospel depicts the calling of two sets of brothers. The first, Peter and Andrew, respond immediately when called, unlike Jonah in our first reading. The second, James and John, respond completely to Jesus. They leave their father and workers behind, and by giving up everything, demonstrate their willingness to give of themselves completely to Christ’s call.
On the surface we see how the encounter with Jesus has changed their lives. They go from being fishermen to fishers of men. The apostles were the first evangelizers in the name of Christ. A theologian by the name of Chad Myers in his book, Binding the Strong Man. A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, puts forth an alternate theory to the fishers of men comment for our consideration. He believes that Jesus’ statement is a reference to Jeremiah 16:16 – “Look! I will send many fishermen, says the LORD, to catch them. After that, I will send many hunters to hunt them out from every mountain and hill and from the clefts of the rocks.” This statement was used as part of a reprimand to Israel who had lost its way. By inviting the apostles to become “fishers of men” Myers suggests that Jesus is inviting them (and us) to join him in his struggle to overthrow the evil of the world, “to overturn the existing order of power and privilege,” as was implied in Jeremiah. Hence it is not enough to respond to Christ’s call in tepid fashion. One must be wholly committed. The disciple must be prepared to leave his old life behind and take on the radical work of the Gospel to make God’s kingdom manifest here on earth.
The same holds true for each of us. It is not enough to respond, “yes,” to Christ through Baptism. We are baptized into a new life. We too have been changed through our encounter with Christ in Baptism. But feeling love for someone is far different from living a life of love. We may say we love Christ and that we love God, but how do our actions speak to that love. Do our actions affirm our love for Christ or do they expose us as frauds professing our love for God, but doing nothing to bring about the life change in us and in the world, which such a love demands of us.
Gospel living is radical. It is counter-cultural. It stands in the face of what society values most. In answering Christ’s call to discipleship we cannot remain unchanged. We must continually ask ourselves, "How is my life different because of Christ?" "How has God's love transformed me?" We must work towards equity and equality. The haves must look after and meet the needs of the have-nots. We must speak on behalf of and defend those who have no voice. The early Church got the message. They lived in true community sharing their possession and caring for the weakest members of the community. Christ is not calling us out of this world, but rather challenging us to live in the world in order to effect needed change so that God’s will can be made manifest here on earth as it is in heaven. Sounds familiar?
What do you think about the Gospel message being counter-cultural? In what ways is it counter-cultural? You have responded, “yes” to Christ’s call to discipleship, but how do you live the Gospel’s message. Look up the Prayer of St. Francis. We can see here that there is more to Christian living than praying and receiving sacraments. How do you live this prayer in your daily life? How is your life different because of Christ? How has God's love transformed you?"
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