21 January. 3rd Sunday

1st Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Jonah’s preaching helps to convert the pagans of Nineveh

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.

2nd Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 7:25-31

Detachment from the dear, familiar things

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

Follow me and I will make you fish for people

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.


Depending on God

To describe others as “living with their heads in the clouds” is not meant as a compliment. We may wonder of St Paul’s head was “in the clouds” in today’s reading. How realistic is his advice, to live as though the ordinary concerns of life did not matter? As if business, planning, bereavements, possessions and even marriage were of no fundamental importance? He cannot really mean that people should withdraw from all these things, or neglect the practical life.. What he clearly means is that we should get our priorities right, and get a wide perspective on 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.

After a brush with death, or a narrow escape or a painful bereavement, we suddenly realize how trivial are our everyday concerns, compared to the abiding mystery of life and death. Does life have meaning? Is our life going anywhere, or is it simply an absurd farce, poised between comedy and tragedy? Three common reactions to an awareness of mortality are:

  • This is all there is: You can’t take it with you–so spend it while you can. Carpe diem (Seize the day). 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.
  • Maybe there’s something beyond: A vague 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, so far.
  • My life is in God’s hands: A firm belief 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 renew our basic trust in God. 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 belief in God the Father, does not mean living with our head in the clouds. Christian devotion certainly fixes our ambition away above the passing things of life, but it 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.

Open to Change

Most of us tend to become set in our ways. We get into certain ways of doing things and it seems easier to stay with those ways rather than change from them. Routines develop and those routines keep us going. It often takes someone else to suggest that broaden our horizons  and open up to areas of life that we would never otherwise have ventured into. Perhaps we can identify such people in our own lives, 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 pairs of brothers in this morning’s gospel. Peter, Andrew, James and John lived in a world that was defined by their nearness to the Sea of Galilee. They were fishermen. The tools of their trade were their boats and their nets. Their livelihood came from the fish they caught and the money the fish brought in. They had every reason to believe that this would always be their trade. Their way of life had a predictable rhythm and they probably meant to go on with that rhythm until they were too old or sick to work.

But 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 invitation Jesus gave 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 our Lord 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 broader horizons, 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 learned to live by. The Lord’s call to follow 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 this morning 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 this morning’s gospel we find Jonah doing just that and his message met with tremendous openness from the people of Nineveh.

God’s horizon is so much wider than ours. To answer the call of Jesus involves letting our own limited horizons 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 has no borders or boundaries; it needs no walls to keep people out. Our calling is to embrace the values of God’s kingdom. To do that we need to keep on repenting, to keep on dying to the narrowness of our vision and lifestyles. Saint Paul calls on us not to become engrossed in the world, not to give ourselves over completely to what is transient and superficial. 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.


Another kind of lifestyle

[Jose Antonio Pagola]

We can’t know with certainty how John the Baptist’s disciples reacted when Herod Antipas imprisoned him in the fortress of Machaeron, but we do know Jesus’ reaction to the Baptist’s arrest. He didn’t stay in the desert, nor did he seek refuge among his family in Nazareth. He began to travel around the villages of Galilee preaching an original and surprising message.

The evangelist Mark sums it up, saying that «he went into Galilee; there he proclaimed the gospel from God». Jesus doesn’t repeat the preaching of the Baptist nor does he speak of his baptism in the Jordan. He announces God as something new and good. This is his message:

«The time is fulfilled»  The time of waiting that Israel has been going through has ended. Likewise the time of the Baptist has ended. With Jesus begins a new era. God doesn’t want to leave us alone with our problems, sufferings and challenges. God wants to build a more human world with us.

«The kingdom of God is close at hand»  With an unfamiliar audacity, Jesus surprises everyone when he announces something that no prophet had ever dared to declare: «Now God is here, with the creative power of justice, trying to reign among us». Jesus experiences God as a good and loving Presence that is seeking to open a path among us in order to humanize our life. That’s why Jesus’ whole life is a call to hope. An alternative to a fierce self-promotion does exist. It’s not true that history has to wander through the paths of injustice that the powerful people of the earth lay out for it. A more just and fraternal world is possible. We can change the trajectory of history.

«Repent»  It’s no longer possible to live as if nothing ever happens. God asks each of us to collaborate, cooperate with grace. That’s why Jesus cries out: «Change your way of thinking and acting». We Christians should be the first ones to change. God doesn’t impose anything by force, but is always attracting our consciences toward a more human life.

«Believe the gospel»  Take it seriously. Wake up out of your indifference. Mobilize your energies. Believe that it’s possible to humanize the world. Believe in the liberating power of the Gospel. Believe that transformation is possible. Introduce trust into the world.

What have we made of Jesus’ passionate message? How could we have forgotten it? What have we substituted for it? What’s keeping us busy if what’s most important is «seeking God’s reign and God’s justice»? How can we live tranquil, while observing that God’s creative project of a world full of peace and justice is being annihilated by people?

Oscailte le hathrú croí

Is léir go bhfuil radharc Dé i bhfad níos leithne ná radharc an duine. Is é an rud atá i gceist le glaoch Íosa a fhreagairt ná go gcuirfí ár radharc teoranta féin ar leith, chun glacadh le fís Dé lenár saol. Sula n-iarr Íosa ar Peadar, Aindrias, Séamus agus Eoin é a leanúint, d’fhógair sé, “tá an t-am tagtha agus tá ríocht Dé gar do láimh. Iompaígí agus creidigí an dea-scéal.”  Ní bhuil teorainneacha ar ríocht Dé; ní árdaíonn Íosa aon bhallaí chun daoine a choinneáil amach. Glaoíonn Sé orainn na luachanna a bhaineann le ríocht Dé a ghlacadh lenár gcroí agus a chur i bhfeidhm inár stíl maireachtála. Iarrann Naomh Pól orainn gan luachanna an domhain a glachadh, gan sinn féin a thabhairt go hiomlán le rudaí fánacha, éadroma.

One Comment

  1. Conversion: Extending the horizons, leaving the comfort zones. Great thoughts

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