THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. Jan 24, 2021
Reading 1 John 3: 1 – 5, 10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 25
Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31
Mark 1. 14 – 20
In today’s first reading, we find the story of Jonah, a narrative about the acceptance or rejection of God’s mission. He was a Jew and he had all the prejudices of some Jews at the time against non-Jews. Yet, God called him to head out and preach the message of God’s merciful love to the pagans, to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, the arch enemies of the people of Israel. Here was a call that was stretching Jonah’s horizon to breaking point and he ran away from it. Yet, God pursued him and did not give up on him until Jonah answered the call. We are all called to difficult things, and so most of us sinners, most of the time, do everything we can to avoid our mission. In Jonah’s case, it was physical flight, but for many of us it’s choosing to ignore what God has said, a giving in to every other voice, taking the path of least resistance, making excuses, pleading our own sinfulness, settling for spiritual mediocrity. What would happen if every single person in our society commenced to embrace his or her mission from God? One man converted the entire city, from the King to the very animals. Nothing is impossible for God and for those whom God has empowered.
At first glance, the response of to the call of discipleship looks remarkably straightforward. The New Testament narrative is so rapid it doesn’t often give us an insight into the experience of conversion; we see it, but we don’t live through it. The calling of Levi features in three Gospels but he pace of the story gives us little flavor. In Mathew’s Gospel he “Got up and followed him”, and the same in Mark (2:14). In Luke he “Got up, left everything and followed him” (5:28) Scripture scholars tell us that people like Levi may have known Jesus for some time before they received this calling, yet I’m still perplexed by what happened. What would it be like to be so convinced that you return home and explain, “Look, I haven’t got much time. I’m not packing because I ‘ve met a compelling man who has changed the way I see things and I need to leave you and go with him. You can have everything.” Why would you drop everything, livelihood, family, gold membership and walk into a nomadic and insecure way of life? Was my reluctance both as a child and an adult something to do with the lack of a spectacular religious moment?
Peter, Andrew, James and John were called to leave their natural family to embrace a much larger family, the future family of Jesus’ disciples. The Lord’s call to us to follow him today will always involve some element of that call to open ourselves up to a wider family, the family of the church or of humanity
A closer inspection of the scriptures gives a more varied response to God’s call. Moses, the great leader of the Jewish people, first pleads with God, explaining that he is not a good speaker and requesting that God “send someone else” (Exodus 4:13). Gideon is reluctant and refuses on the basis that he has better brothers. God persists and offers support, so Gideon starts bargaining, asking God to do a miracle. Jonah we read in today’s first reading decides to run away the Lord (Jonah 1:3). Later, when he does relent, we discover the true nature of his reluctance. God has decided not to destroy the people Jonah has been sent to warn and this makes him angry because he feels like a fraud. Isaiah is reluctant because he believes he has a foul mouth. Jeremiah believes himself to be too immature to stand before the people. Ezekiel prostrates himself and has to be repeatedly reassured just to stand up. Zacharias responds to the Angel Gabriel by implying that his message is impossible. The rich young man declines to follow Jesus because of the wealth he has accumulated. Peter calls upon Jesus to leave him because he feels he is too sinful to be a disciple. Thomas is reluctant because he wants evidence. Ananias is reluctant because he fears being arrested. Timothy becomes reluctant because he is overwhelmed by the intellectual ability of the people and struggles to overcome his inadequacy. My favorite example comes from Saul who believes that God has chosen the wrong man! All these responses make the response of Mary the Mother of Jesus and our mother even more remarkable. Her “yes” is a total surrender to the will of God, even though she will need to ponder these things afterwards.
God’s horizon is always so much wider than ours. The call of Jesus to follow him always involves a call to allow our own limited horizons to be stretched to embrace God’s vision for our lives. Before Jesus called on Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him, he announced, ‘the time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the good news.’ The kingdom of God is not like any human kingdom. It has no boundaries; it needs no mechanisms to keep people out. Our calling is to keep living out of the endless horizon of God’s kingdom. To do that we need to keep on repenting, to keep on dying to whatever narrowness of vision and lifestyle may be there within us. Saint Paul in the second reading today calls on us not to become engrossed in the world, not to give ourselves over completely to what does not endure and is not of ultimate significance. While living in the world we are called to look beyond it towards that endless horizon of God’s kingdom. Today is church unity Sunday. Regardless of the church to which we believe it is in responding to that fundamental call of Jesus that we will grow closer together.
The call that Jesus addressed to those two sets of brothers, ‘Follow me’, is addressed to each one of us. In our case that call will not mean leaving our jobs, if we are fortunate enough to have one, or, much less, leaving our families. Yet, the call of Jesus to follow him will always involve the opening up of some new horizon or other. In calling on us to follow him, Jesus is always opening us up to the horizon of God, to God’s perspective on life. This will often mean looking afresh at the way we do things, the routines that we have built up and seem to keep us going, the rhythms that we have become used to and have learnt to live by. The Lord’s call to follow him is addressed to us every day of our lives. It will mean something different every day, but it is always a call to keep making a new beginning in some way or other, to keeping setting out on a new journey, God’s journey, which is the journey towards other people in selfless love, the journey towards a wider horizon.
Not everyone who is called responds with immediate conviction. Not everyone drops everything to follow Jesus the way that Simon, Andrew, James and John do. As a little altar boy I was not able to understand God’s invitation fully in my life. It was a call I accepted joyfully in later stage as I grew up. And I was able to say “Yes” to God’s call that marks the start of a stage in journey of my spiritual order, which involves confronting all sorts of reluctances and numerous twists and turns throughout our lives. Reluctance comes in many guises. It is part of the learning, part of the adventure, part of the conversion. Conversion and conviction rarely come in one complete package. Although there are remarkable graced moments along the way, it takes a life time to hear and understand our true calling and sometimes we only get to see it looking back.
God Bless you. Have a wonderful day.