THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2021)
Readings:Jonah 3:1-5, 10Psalms 25:4-91 Corinthians 7:29-31Mark 1:14-20
In today’s gospel we find the John of the last two Sunday’s gospels arrested, and the oldest gospel gives us a different account of the calling of the first disciples than we found in last week’s Gospel of John. After the reference to the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus begins the proclamation that will be at the foundation of His ministry: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” For the next roughly three years Jesus will personally be bringing, to towns and villages in the Middle East, His good news, in the hopes of getting the people to see that a new era has dawned, and that in His person the God they have worshipped has drawn closer to them than they could ever have imagined possible.
Our first reading from the book of the Prophet Jonah gives us a precious insight into the God of Israel, a God who raises up kings and prophets to guide and direct “His” people along righteous paths. Jonah was given a task by God, to “set out for the great city of Nineveh (“an enormously large city”), and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” The message was a warning, that in “forty days more” Nineveh “shall be destroyed.” Much to Jonah’s surprise, “the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth,” and “they turned from their evil way.”
One might think that Jonah would be happy that his preaching was effective and worked, but he was anything but. The verse immediately after our reading reads: “and this greatly displeased Jonah.” Jonah asked God to take his life. Jonah knew that God was a “gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness, repenting of punishment.” But Jonah was disappointed. He expected the Ninevites to be Ninevites, ignoring God’s warning, but he also does not want God to be God. Even a prophet can be guilty of the selfish desire to want something other than God’s will. The Ninevites should be punished, Jonah thought; this isn’t the way this was supposed to go.
We might be as surprised as Jonah when we get to heaven and see who God has admitted there. Our tendency is to expect God to be less than God is. While acknowledging the gracious and merciful and forgiving dimensions of the God we worship, we too often wish God would forget His own nature and punish those who we think deserve punishment. When the Capitol of these United States was overrun by marauding thugs, they were clearly overwhelmed by a palpable hatred, so unsettling in those who carried Bibles and waved Jesus flags, while brandishing arms and threatening others. While they were unable to see the irony of their actions, they are not beyond the redemption of our God. Justice may still await them, but we should never see them as anything other than children of a loving, gracious and merciful God, Who is desirous of “repenting of punishment.”
The first apostles chosen in the Gospel of Mark today will be part of a movement of those who in their heart of hearts feel that “the kingdom of God is at hand,” and like the Ninevites, they will do their best to turn to God and repent, following Jesus for the next three years, all the way to the Cross, and eventually to their own deaths. It will take Jesus’ constant teaching and the work of the Holy Spirit (which was not enough for Judas) to turn them into the very foundation stones of the Church, stones not of marble or granite, but stones made of the blood, sweat, and tears, of countless martyrs and saints who recognized the kingdom at work in their midst. Jesus calls them from no prestigious place, but calls them from the ordinary mending of their fishing nets, a place they were no doubt very familiar with. It is from a similar place that God calls us to participate in the furthering of His Kingdom. It is up to us who have listened to the call of the Lord to follow Him, to attune our ears to His message, proclaimed every week and from the pages of Scripture.
Our Lord and Savior has taught us to avoid the selfishness of Jonah, who tried to make God into his image. Our Lord has taught us to avoid the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees who made the Law into their God. Our Lord has taught us that following Him is more than being content to hold bibles, or wave flags with Jesus’ name. Our following Jesus involves falling more and more in love with the Lord, who calls all of us to love our brothers and sisters, and to never see them beyond the scope of God’s redemption.