22 January. 3rd Sunday (Year B)
Jonah 3:1-5, 10. Under God’s mercy, the preaching of the reluctant Jonah meets with an immediate response in the pagan city of Nineveh.
1 Cor 7:25-31. Under the example of a widower or widow coping with bereavement, Paul proposes a level of detachment from the dear, familiar things which once tended to absorb us completely.
Mk 1:14-20. “Repent, and believe in the good news.” Jesus begins to spread his message and he calls his first disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
Depending on God
“He lives with his head in the clouds” is no compliment to a man, living in this earthly world. How realistic is Paul’s advice, to live as though the ordinary events and concerns of life did not matter? As if business, planning, bereavements, possessions and the rest were of no fundamental importance? Well, first of all he does not mean that people should withdraw from all these things, or neglect the practical life.. What he does mean is that we should get our priorities right, and get a proper balanced view of things, so that what is of lasting importance can play its part too – namely, the question of our eternal destiny, and how we stand in the sight of God.
Under the influence of a brush with death – a near escape, or a recent bereavement – we come to realize how trivial are the usual concerns that engross us, when compared to the abiding mystery of life and death. Does it have a purpose? Is our life going anywhere, or is it simply an absurd farce, poised between comedy and tragedy? There are three common reactions to this mystery of life and death:
First: You can’t take it with you – so spend it while you can. When you’re dead you’re dead and that’s it! So make the most of these short years, enjoy them to the utmost, and then submit to the universal annihilation that awaits us all
Second: A hope that there may be life beyond the grave, but one which seems so shadowy and insubstantial that there’s little point in thinking about it. Still, it’s a worry. Perhaps there will be a punishing judgement for wrongs done in this life, which we managed to get away with
Third: The conviction that God holds each human life securely in his hand, so that death is just a passing-over into his direct presence. In the biblical view, we should not worry about death, nor about anything. in life so much as to turn to God, and obey his word. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his glory” says Jesus. If we can make the right primary decision, if our first desire is to fit in with God’s plan for us, then everything else will fall into place; life and work, marriage, successes and failures, sickness and even death itself.
All of us, no matter how long we have been living in the faith, need to reawaken this attitude of trust. We need conversion, no, less than the people of Nineveh, or the people of Galilee. Repent, and believe, says Jesus today, to each one here. Believe that God is my father and your father; believe that he is near at hand, and that he is merciful; realize that God’s will for you is that you be saved – and that includes the need to live by his Gospel. “Repent” – yes, the challenge is as fresh today as when our Lord first spoke it. As though we were hearing of the kingdom of God for the first time, and making our first act of total trust and total submission to God’s love.
Taking Jesus at his word, being converted to genuine faith in God the Father, does not mean living with our head in the clouds. Genuine Christian devotion certainly fixes our ambition away above the passing things of life, but also keeps us aware of everyday duties towards other people. Hearing the Gospel, welcoming and following it, keeps a person with feet well grounded in reality, more keenly involved than ever in carrying out the tasks that have to be done here and now, because now is the day of salvation; now is the time, given us by God to pay him our thanksgiving through service.
The Few Words
American sociologist Fr Andrew Greeley was once invited to give the keynote address at a major conference on religious education. Working on data from a survey he had carried out in Chicago, he listed the most effective religious educators on a scale of one-to-ten. Coming first – and so far ahead of the other nine that it should hardly be included on the same league table – were Christian parents. In their role as religious educators of their children, mothers and fathers were the undisputed leaders in the field. That came as no surprise to anybody at the conference. One has only to reflect on one’s own life, to realise that whatever religion we have, we owe in huge part to our parents and the early training we received at home. Greeley then moved on to number two. There was a gasp of disbelief in the conference-hall when he announced the findings from his survey. The Parish Priest and his Sunday homily. But Greeley was adamant. That much-maligned Sunday sermon and its little appreciated author were the second most important religious educators.
Preaching has always had a bad press. The word itself is far more commonly used in its derogatory than in its literal sense. Even priests themselves prefer to refer to this part of their ministry as “saying a few words” rather than “preaching.” The word “homily’, with its homely ring, has all but replaced “sermon.” There is a holier-than-thou odour that clings to preaching, which is as offensive to the listener as it is embarrassing to the preacher. Most, like Jonah, are reluctant preachers. Like him, too, they go in obedience to the word of the Lord.
When Christ began to recruit preachers of his gospel, he showed a marked preference for fishermen. it is not without significance. Fishermen axe noted for two qualities, patience and hope. The results they achieve are rarely commensurate with the time they put in. But they persevere and they hope. Again and again they launch out into the deep and cast their nets. Simon and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, had done their novitiate on the Sea of Galilee. “Follow me,” Christ said to them, “and I will make you fishers of men.” They left their boats and their nets for the life of an itinerant preacher. They were called to proclaim the good news, to preach the gospel. The long hours spent catching nothing in the Sea of Galilee would stand them in good stead.
Preaching is like fishing. When the priest casts out his line into a sea of souls on a Sunday morning, he never knows who might nibble at his bait. He has no way of knowing what his yield maybe. He will never know what grace-filled words of his touched a soul in need. He can take comfort from Andrew Greeley’s survey. It confirms Christ’s promise to make him a fisher of men.
Leave what you’re doing
Today’s gospel is virtually a repeat of the gospel of last Sunday. Instead of the invitation to “Come and see” of last Sunday, today he asked them to leave what they are doing, come follow him, and pursue a calling which he would entrust to them. One cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that, once he called them, they left everything and went off with him.
Some years ago, one of my colleagues felt a call to work in Africa. He travelled there, and went to several different countries, before deciding that Mozambique was a country with enormous needs and that, after sixteen years of civil war, the church and church structures had almost vanished. He returned with his decision made. His conviction was such that, before long, he had others who were willing to join him in the mission. Over the years since then, most of my colleagues have visited and spent some time there. Many of them admit that, were it not for the language barrier, they would have stayed there. At the time of writing, the undertaking is thriving; and all because one guy knew where he was going, and that inspired others to leave everything and follow him.
John the Baptist has done his job, and Jesus can now take over. His opening words in today’s gospel are significant. “At last the time has come! The kingdom of God is near! Turn from your sins and believe this good news.” John had foretold this; now Jesus had come to fulfil it. “The time is now” is his message, and that message is just as true today as it was then.
There was obviously something powerfully magnetic about the personality of Jesus. The apostles were fishermen. It was the only job they knew, and it obviously had been part of their family history for some time. Then, suddenly, one day a stranger comes along and asks them to pack it in and come off with him. Fishing for men, instead of for fish? The idea was crazy, but there was something about this man that got your full attention, and held that attention. He could not be easily dismissed. He had been baptised by the Spirit in the Jordan; therefore, his words were anointed, and he could speak with power and authority. When he spoke, others listened. This applied equally to those who listened, and to those who refused to believe, or to act on his word. Some of them would even use his word as a weapon against him. The point is, however, that his word evoked a response from them. “You are either for me, or against me.”
First Reading: Book of Jonah 3:1-5, 10
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 7:25-31
Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.