January 21, 2018 — Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our readings on this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us that we are each called by God to a particular purpose in life. In addition, we must guard against being too rooted, so that we can indeed respond to the Lord as a disciple.
Jonah might be called the “reluctant prophet.” God had called Jonah, but Jonah did everything he possibly could to resist that call. God is persistent, and calls Jonah again. God may be calling us as well over and over; the calling will not cease, but our response must be a positive one, just as Jonah’s is. One might say that God offers Jonah a new beginning; we, too are offered a new beginning by the Lord, and as we enter a new calendar year this may be the time to consider that.
Realizing that it was pointless to resist the will of God, Jonah does go to Nineveh, and there he preaches repentance. It is the same message brought by John the Baptist and one conveyed by Jesus over and over. Before we can answer a call, before we can be disciples, we, too, must repent.
Although brief, the Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians carries a message closely associated with repentance. Paul warns against being too rooted and attached to the things of this life. When Paul says “the time is running out,” he is paralleling Jesus’ words and advice. Jesus said in Matthew 24:44 “Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Time is always running out on us. That is why we must seek to repent and respond now, not later. What is our calling? It may not come to us in capital letters and clearly, but it is something we must ever be seeking, and then trying to fulfill it. Paul’s comments about family are often misinterpreted. He is not encouraging neglect of family duties, but he wants us to know that the things of this world — attitudes, emotions, and certainly possessions — are not all that matters. We each have a higher calling.
Finally, the Gospel of Mark relates a story very familiar to us when the Lord calls His first Apostles to “come after me.” This is in effect the calling heard by Jonah, and what Paul was trying to emphasize to us. Before the calling, however, Jesus says again, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” We will hear something very similar on Ash Wednesday as Lent begins.
When Jesus says “Repent” it may not mean quite what we think it does. The Lord is not telling us to just feel sorry. He is calling us to action. That involves conversion, a change in how we live and what we do. Repentance is a change of direction. Also, it is not something we do before we come to God and answer His call. It is telling us what coming to God is like, what it requires.
In the original Greek, the word attributed to Jesus for “believe” is pisteuo. That means much more than just knowledge or agreement. It speaks of our total trust and dependence on God. It is not just an intellectual acceptance, but it is a call to live it out. That is what the Apostles did when Jesus called them.
Note that the Lord says “I will make you fishers of men.” He is speaking of a process, not an instantaneous happening. Jesus called His Apostles to do what He did. It was their responsibility to share this with others, which is what occurred. Imagine that from that original calling there are now millions upon millions of potential disciples. We are still called to do Jesus’ work. It began with two, then four, then twelve and has continued to grow through the centuries. Spreading the Good News is still part of what Jesus expects from each of us.