Jan 24, 2015

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: "Do you hear his voice?"

Jon 3: 1-5, 10
1 Cor 7: 29-31
Mk 1: 14-20

It may not be often that we acquaint the Bible with humorous stories but this weekend in our first reading we hear from the Book of Jonah, which scholars have always seen not as a literal relating of facts but as a tongue in cheek satirical story about ancient Israel and their na├»ve conception of what God is like, and who’s in and who’s out.

The surprising twist takes place when God changes his mind as the Ninevites repent and the joke is on Jonah. Humor is also found in several of the parables which Jesus must have told with a smile on his face.  For example read Luke 18: 1-8 about the woman who demanded her rights before the judge who proclaimed, literally: “Give her what she wants before she punches me in the eye!” 

This Sunday’s first reading from Jonah relates a story of repentance as does the Gospel.  Jonah is called by God to warn the pagan Ninevites: ““Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” With a kind of glee before God, Jonah is convinced the Ninevites would never repent and now dares God as he intends to prove his point. He is pleased that God will destroy these pagans.  Then, to his wonder, they repent and God changes his mind!  You can imagine old Jonah standing there with his mouth agape and a look of confusion. 

“What a minute, Lord,” you can hear Jonah say in embarrassment.  “You sent me to warn them of impending destruction and now you change your mind? Where does that leave me since I put my life on the line here?” 

Why does God “change his mind?”  Because, as one scholar stated: “God doesn’t have to be faithful to God’s word as long as God is faithful to God’s people.” He saw the repentance of the Ninevites and his divine hope for their salvation was realized since God desires relationship with us far more than he does our abandonment or destruction. 

So, thank God, he changed his mind and it became a new understanding for Jonah about God’s abundant mercy, which was a lesson for the nation of Israel (who Jonah symbolizes in the satirical book) that God loves not only them but all who would come to him in repentance.  By such their own myopic view of God was challenged.

This takes us to the Gospel story of Jesus’ call: “This is the time of fulfillment.

The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark connects this beginning of Jesus’ core message in his preaching to that of John the Baptist.  Jesus takes up where John left off and expands God’s invitation to come to this new way of life through personal conversion.

With that, Jesus is next seen walking along the Sea of Galilee and calls to himself his first disciples: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And so the fishermen Andrew, Simon, James and John, so engrossed in their profession, drop everything instantly, which is amazing in itself if that is exactly what happened, and follow Jesus.  Last Sunday we heard John’s version of this same event in (Jn 1:35-42) but John emphasized more the invitation to come into a deeper relationship with Jesus: “Come and you will see.”

An interesting strong possibility that may answer our amazement at the seemingly instantaneous response to Jesus’ call from these fishermen is the distinct possibility that they already knew Jesus.  A strong tradition holds that after Jesus’ baptism he became a follower of John the Baptist and might have been engaged in a shared baptismal ministry along with John. Yet, among John’s early disciples were these fishermen as we heard last Sunday:  Andrew, Simon, James and John.  Thereby they were already acquainted with Jesus.

Now that John is gone, Jesus’ takes up John’s mission, as we hear in his similar call to repentance. These former disciples of John, who have searched for a new John, find him in Jesus – at least to begin with. News spread quickly in those days through the gossip lines for there was no other way to inform others of “breaking news” events as we speak today.

So, this Sunday Mark emphasizes the early disciples’ response and how that response was one without hesitation and filled with what must have been eagerness and curiosity.  Did they know what they were getting in to? Of course not – how could they?  Jesus didn’t promise anything at this point; he simply called them to follow but where and to what?

To be Christian, to be formed by a new vision of God, as Jonah discovered, and to then go on mission to a world so dark and divided by confusion, pride, hatred, and prejudice. That God’s mercy and forgiveness, which is the heart of Christianity, is available for all who would embrace their own invitation to follow the Lord, regardless of who they are. Our response should be one of no hesitation to take up the same baton. Like passing the Olympic torch from one runner to another we now carry that light from those before us.

It’s a powerful moment in the beginning of the Gospel stories and that of Jesus’ now public ministry.  From obscurity in Nazareth this charismatic and mysterious preacher appears along the Sea of Galilee not to fish for fish but to fish for people, when he invites others to join him in this cause. 

Our own invitation may have come to us through far different events but nonetheless is the same: conversion of heart and life in order to embrace the Good News of the Gospel and to call others to do the same. 

In our vocations, from the word vocare, meaning to call, we are invited as married persons, as ordained ministers, as consecrated religious men and women, and as single people to a common mission which we live out in and through the Christian lifestyle we have embraced and in the family of the Church, the People of God.  None of us is exempt and through our common baptism, like Christ himself who showed us the way, our lives involve the same mission which Jesus’ began.

When we come for the Eucharist each weekend, our particular state in life does not matter in the same way it does beyond the borders of our Churches.  Here, gathered for Word and Sacrament, we are one regardless of our economic status, politics, language, color of our skin, or whether we are male or female, young or old.  We all have a common mission to fulfill and we are privileged to share in Jesus’ own invitation.

Let’s not be like Jonah; surprised that God is merciful and forgiving to all who seek him.  It will challenge our own views and our own narrow prejudices for all have a share in his kingdom.

"Open our eyes
to the needs of our brothers and sisters'
inspire in us words and actions
to comfort those who labor and are burdened.
Make us serve them truly,
after the example of Christ and at his command.
And may your Church stand as a living witness
to truth and freedom,
to peace and justice,
 that all people may be raised up to a new hope."

(From Eucharistic Prayer for use in Various needs, #4)