Jan 21, 2024
Jonah 3. 1 – 5, 10
1 Corinthians 7. 29 – 31
Mark 1. 14 – 20
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.
Jonah, a small-hearted prophet, had already condemned the people of Nineveh and was unwilling to preach the Good News to them. To him they were ‘a stiff-necked people’. But he had to learn to be large-hearted from God, whose heart is greater than all our sins, no matter how numerous and grievous they are. All prophets till the last one, John the Baptist, were bearers of God’s Good News to the people of God. When the Baptist is silenced, Jesus, the Good News in person and action, comes on the scene. And when He is silenced, His disciples, even the persecutor Paul, are commissioned to carry on His mission to announce the Good News to the broken-hearted, that God is greater than our heart (1 Jn 3:20).
Salvation history – from creation to consummation can be viewed in his perspective. Through the prophets God our Father calls, invites, pleads with His wayward children (all of us) to come home. In today’s first reading we see God urging the prophet Jonah to go to His children at Nineveh, and, through him, inviting them to come home (to be sorry for their sins and be reconciled with their Father).
When a child misbehaves, even repeatedly, and feels sorry, what he years for and needs most is pardon. His parents or teachers should rise above their sorrowful an aching heart to forgive and pardon him. At this moment his heart is broken an only one whose love for him is greater than his offences can soothe and heal his broken heart. Through what tragedies an even trauma will a child pass if, instead of being understood and loved, he is rebuked and punished? To whom will he then turn for understanding and love? The failings and faults of children test and try their parents’ virtues, their heart. What will happen to the children when their parents are found wanting?
Even if a father or mother fails, God assures us He will not fail. He will not be found wanting. The Lord is full of mercy and compassion. This is the Good News. St. Paul exclaims: “Who can separate us from the love of God, since God has marvelously proved that He is with us an loves us even to the point of sacrificing His only Son?” (Rom 8:31- 36).
We can all become rather set in our ways. We get into certain ways of doing things and it can be easy to stay with those ways and rather difficult to change from them. We develop routines and those routines keep us going. It often takes someone else to broaden our horizons a little, to open us up to areas of life that we would never otherwise have ventured into. We each might be able to identify such people in our own lives, those who introduced us to something that proved to be very enriching and that helped us to grow as human beings.
Jesus was such a person for the two sets of brothers in today’s gospel. Peter, Andrew, James and John lived in a world that was very much defined by the Sea of Galilee. They were fishermen. The tools of their trade were their boats and their nets; the fruit of their trade was the fish that they caught and the money they received for selling on the fish. They had every reason to believe that this would always be their way of life. Their lives had a very particular rhythm and they probably intended go on living to that rhythm until they were too old or sick to work. Then, one day Jesus entered their lives and the impact he had on them was such that they left their boats and their nets, and even their families, to follow this man and to share in his mission. ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of people’, he said to them. Instead of gathering fish into their nets, they would now share in Jesus’ work of gathering people to God. It is hard to imagine a greater change of rhythm than the one which today’s gospel puts before us.
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.
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. The first reading is from the story of the prophet Jonah. 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. In today’s gospel we find Jonah doing just that and his message met with tremendous openness from the people of Nineveh.
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.