The Third Sunday in ordinary time
24th January 2021
The Calling of The Apostles -Domenico Ghirlandaio 1481 - 1482
A fresco in the Sistine Chapel - Vatican
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READINGS: Jonah 3:1-5, 10 1Cor 7:29-31 Mark1:14-20
If ever there was a reluctant prophet it was Jonah. Not that this appears in our first reading today for a lot has happened to Jonah already. This beautiful short story has Jonah refusing to do as God commands. He is told to go to the pagan town of Nineveh and call them to repentance (the last thing Jonah wants the pagans to do). Instead he runs away and boards a ship in the opposite direction. On the journey the ship is battered by a storm and Jonah admits that he is the reason for the ship being in danger and he tells the crew to throw him overboard and as the sea calms the sailors offer praise to God and Jonah is swallowed by a large fish. Jonah prays to the Lord and three days later he is vomited onto dry land. Now, as we hear today, for a second time Jonah is told to go to Nineveh and to preach repentance. Hearing his message, the people of Nineveh declare a fast of forty days. The Lord, on seeing them turn from their evil ways, relents at which point Jonah becomes angry and prays ‘I knew that you were a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, relenting from evil. So now Lord, please take away my life, for I might as well be dead as go on living.’ (Jonah 4:2-3). This story hits out at Jewish exclusiveness and asserts that God, who is full of tenderness and compassion, is indeed the loving God of all peoples. As Father Wilfred Harrington puts it ‘the irony is unmistakeable: the preaching of the reluctant Jonah meets with an immediate and universal response in the pagan city, whereas the great prophets had, over the centuries, preached to the chosen people in vain!’
In today’s gospel we find Jesus in Galilee beginning his public ministry by calling people to repentance for the Kingdom of God is near at hand in the person of Jesus himself. This, says Mark, is Good News for us. For the Kingdom is our longed-for home, made visible for us in the person of Jesus and which will be established through our recognising our need of Him and our sharing in His life through repentance and his sacrifice on the Cross and the power of his Resurrection in which we share by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Just as the people of Nineveh responded in haste to the Word of God so now we see the immediate response today of the first disciples who answer the call of Jesus. How powerfully these men are moved by their encounter with Jesus. They leave the security of their homes and work as they step out into the unknown relying on the call of Jesus to become ‘fishers of men.’ We too are disciples and the call of Jesus to us is, as it was for the first disciples, ‘Come follow me.’ However this call to discipleship was of a totally different order from that of the Rabbis of Jesus’ day; it was revolutionary. For the Rabbis were chosen by their disciples because of his prestige. Jesus called and chose his disciples. The Rabbis would only accept the brightest and the best to protect their reputation. Look who Jesus chooses! The rabbi’s disciples would memorise the Rabbi’s teaching. Jesus disciples often could not understand his teaching. He chose them to recognise Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Often they got in wrong and were slow on the uptake so much so that he had to explain his teaching to them. The Rabbis were firm on the law, for Jesus human values took precedence; his core message was take up your cross and follow me. The desire of the Rabbi’s disciples was to set up their own rabbinic school. For Jesus he IS the message. The gospel and Jesus are the same, he is the Good News. The early Church did not suffer because of Jesus’ teaching but because of HIM. They were called to faith in him. He was the Word made flesh who seeks to become flesh in them and in us. Down through the ages the Lord continues to call disciples to continue to carry the message to the world. The Church then begins from the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus.
For most of us I suspect our call was not as dramatic as that of the first disciples. For us maybe it was more subtle and the Lord more patient but nevertheless we are called to continue the making present of the Kingdom in succession to those who have gone before us down through the ages. On Monday we celebrate the Conversion of St Paul who like the first disciples has a dramatic call from God which changed the whole direction of his life. Paul, or Saul as he was then, met the Lord on the Road to Damascus and in his blindness is changed from being a persecutor of the early Church to becoming its most powerful preacher as his eyes are opened to know the God who loves him. So that he can eventually say, ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me.’ (Gal2:19-20). These words speak to us too of our discipleship and as we gather together to celebrate our faith we pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit we may witness in our daily lives to the living presence of the Lord in what we do and say. I was struck by that phrase of President Biden yesterday when he said, ’we’ll lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.’ The Lord reigns in us and He wants us to reveal Him to the world. In our wounded world may we be inspired by the words of Pope Francis “I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it is nearness, proximity I see the Church a afield hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds..” This is building the Kingdom; our mission as disciples of the Lord. He has called us to this mission and we pray for the grace to be faithful to our calling: living the Good News day by day to the glory of God and in the service of all in need.
God bless you,