Breaking Open the Word
3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
January 21, 2024
This Sunday’s readings are about the call of God.
The first reading is from the Old Testament book of Jonah, one of the shortest books of the Bible. We only read half of chapter 3, but I urge you to read the whole book, it’s only 2 pages. If you think it’s a child’s fable of a man swallowed by a whale, think again. It’s a serious story about the mercy of God, about second chances, about holding grudges, miracles, being angry at God, hating enemies, a thanksgiving prayer, and even God’s sense of humor. Yeah, all of that in 2 pages- it’s not kid’s stuff.
God sends Jonah on a mission west, and he immediately gets on a boat eastbound to a far away land. It would be like the fisherman in our gospel story rowing their boats and heading out to sea instead. That’s typically what happens with Jesus, He takes the Old Testament stories and sets things right. Notice our reading says the word of the Lord came to Jonah a SECOND TIME. That was after the miraculous 3 day survival at sea. Jonah starts preaching to the Ninevites an 8 word sermon: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed!” They must have heard about him and his 3 days within the large fish, and perhaps when he showed up he looked and smelled like he had been in a giant sea creature, enough to convince them of the God of Jonah’s power. Jesus refers to this in Luke 11:29, “this generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus was comparing to when he would spend 3 days in the tomb and then rise. Then in verse 32 He says “At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” Even after His resurrection the Pharisees didn’t convert, unlike the Ninevites, who saw a much smaller miracle. Get to know the book of Jonah, not as a fable but as a study in God’s mercy. If you ever had a problem understanding God’s forgiveness in the prodigal son story (Luke 15), ponder the book of Jonah.
The responsorial psalm would be something the people of Nineveh could have used if they only knew of it, it’s a humble prayer asking God to show the way to Him. You don’t see the beautiful first verse in today’s reading, which is “I wait for you, O LORD, I lift up my soul to my God.” (NAB)
In the second reading, St. Paul’s message is urgent: time is short! He is reminding us eternity is nearer than we expect it. When he wrote this letter, he was thinking Jesus would return any day and this feeling influenced his words. Here we are almost 2000 years later, Christ still hasn’t returned, and yet... “tempus fugit, memento mori” (time flies, remember death) still applies to us as to Paul’s readers since we will meet Christ at our death.
Of the five things he is referring to, he says to act as not possessing them. They are all temporary in this life, even spouses; marriage is an earthly covenant, Jesus said there is no marriage in heaven. Earlier in the same chapter St. Paul writes very favorably of loyalty of both men and women in marriage, but here he is just saying that even in marriage, set your sights on the higher things of heaven, even as you live out your marriage vows. We should make the most of it each day we are living by acts of love and sharing the faith to help get our spouses and children to heaven.
St. Paul reminds us that in the cycle of life there will be weeping but it will end, and there will be rejoicing but that too will end, yet we are to remember that life is short and our time will run out, and our goal is heaven. He talks of buying but not owning, and using the world but not fully. We really don’t own anything in this life, everything we have is a gift from God and we are just stewards of it all.
Nothing is ours to keep and we won’t take it with us when our time runs out. Anyone who ever had to settle a parent’s estate and possessions knows this. Everything we own belongs to the world. Have you ever noticed WE have to adapt to the things we possess? Our phones, our computers, our cars, our houses, clothing, tools, even jobs, we modify ourselves to use the worldly things, and we have to accept that. St. Paul is reminding us all that “stuff” will pass away; but WE belong to heaven.
Today in Mark’s Gospel Jesus leaves the Jordan river area where John the Baptist was baptizing and heads North to the Galilee country. Before He left (from John’s gospel last week), He had met Peter and Andrew and John Zebedee who were probably followers of the Baptist. They had spent the day with Jesus, and maybe they even made the long walk back to Galilee with Him, but then they must have then returned to their fishing boats. Later Jesus returned to the shore and while Simon and Andrew were casting their nets in their boat, actively fishing, Jesus said “come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” That’s it, and they just left their nets and boat there and followed Him.
A little farther down James and John were in a boat with their father Zebedee and his hired men, mending their nets, and when Jesus called them they just left everything and followed him. The next day Jesus found Philip and simply said “follow me” and Philip did, and went and found Nathanael, exclaiming he found the Messiah. Nathanael replied with total skepticism, but Philip used the same words Jesus spoke to Andrew, “come and see.” When Nathanael met Jesus, he was overwhelmed when Jesus told him of a vision of some unseen act of honestly or courage done by him under the fig tree and he declared Jesus the Son of God and King of Israel. A little later Matthew the rich tax collector would just walk away from his lucrative station and riches and follow Jesus by His simple command “follow me.”
Little is known how the other 5 apostles joined the 12. But we know that Jesus did not pick any of them from the religious leaders of the day, the scribes, Pharisees, nor the priests. They were not scholars and were far from perfect too. They didn’t always get Christ’s message, especially when He tried to tell them he was going to suffer and die and then rise from the dead. They would argue about who was the greatest among them. Jesus even called Peter satan once. Several times He told them they just don’t get it, they must have frustrated Him at times. One of the twelve would betray Him, and they all would abandon Him when He was arrested, and only John was present at His crucifixion.
But they did give up everything to follow Jesus, including their lives eventually. Jesus had nothing, and He asked them to join Him in His poverty. And if you read the Act of the Apostles, you will see how they acquired incredible courage and wisdom, and performed amazing works and miracles just like Jesus and spread the story of Jesus throughout the known world.
The theme for this Sunday’s readings is discipleship. Jonah had to learn it the hard way.
What did the apostles learn from Jesus? Before Him, they all had their jobs, their careers, the busyness of life. Did any of them ever pay any attention to the sick, the blind, the lame, the leper, the public sinner? Did they ever care? Society avoided these types. But following Jesus, they all learned a new outlook of compassion on those by the hundreds who suffered. They came face to face with sinners who received the joy of forgiveness from Jesus. They saw people get their lives back, people released from the possession of demons, “unclean” people allowed to worship in the temple again.
The apostles listened to Jesus teach thousands of people who traveled up to a hundred miles to listen to Him. They saw Him twice feed thousands of people though a miracle multiplication of loaves and fishes. They witnessed Him raise a little girl, a young man, and an old man from the dead. They heard Him debate the religious leaders who ended up tangled in their own logic as they tried to trick Him, as He used the Scriptures masterfully against them. In the end His opposition to the leaders cost Him his life, which brought out the fear and cowardice of the apostles. They had to live through those terrible 3 days following the death of Jesus, the sad ending of what seemed was the long awaited Jewish Messiah. But they also became witnesses to something we can only imagine, Christ’s Resurrection, the most amazing event in human history.
Before Jesus returned to the Father, He commissioned them to proclaim the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always.” Then they got to experience receiving of the Holy Spirit in fire and wind and immediately expressed all seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in a very public way, proclaiming Jesus to a large crowd.
That little church of twelve disciples has grown. 2000 years later there are 2.5 billion Christians, 1/3 of the earth’s population, of which half are Roman Catholic.
Theme in our Life Today
We have all made decisions that were life changing, even when we didn’t have all the answers. Maybe you once decided to join the military, having no real idea where it would take you. When you decided to get married, not knowing where that would lead. When you moved away from your parents, as James and John walked away from Zebedee and started a new unknown life. When children entered your life, especially the first child, you started an experience of which you had no idea what you were in for, and found it doesn’t just last for 18 or 22 years but to the end of your life. When you chose a career, or you got a lucky opportunity or got training in a skill, you never could have imagined where it would take you. When you moved to a new city, so many things changed, the distances from relatives and old friends, and the new friends you made. For some that would include a spouse.
So think about those first 4 apostles, those fisherman, who walked away from their boats, their father, and followed this Man. There was something about Him that they didn’t even question Him. All He said was “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” And to the other men, just “follow me.” And so they did. In the next 3 years they would see so many un-natural miracles beyond belief, hear preaching like never heard before, and see two unimaginable things: this innocent man would be killed on a cross, and then rise from the dead! 40 years later they would have taught thousands of people about this man and they would even die for Him. Through those men, and the people they taught, over the ages they passed on the story of that amazing Man to us, who now need to pass it on to the next generation now. It isn’t passed in the genes, it’s in the teaching, and the story will die without our teaching it. Jesus started with “come follow Me” and ended with “go and make disciples.”
We all want to grow in our faith. But we need to also grow in spreading the faith to others. That’s discipleship. Your first act of discipleship might start when you tell someone “I’ll pray for you”, or saying grace before meals in a public place. If you continue to read your Bible and attend frequent Mass and receive the sacraments, your faith will start a fire within you where you cannot contain it and you will want to tell others about what God means in your life, and now you are a true disciple.
You just have to trust God, as Jonah did, and as Peter did when he said from his boat “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” And behold, their nets were full unto tearing. And Jonah trusted God and converted 120,000 Ninevites in one day. Now Jesus is saying to you- “come follow me, and go make disciples.”
Prepare for Sunday
Are you growing in your faith internally, getting closer to the Lord in your heart?
Are you growing in your faith on the outside so that you can be a disciple of Christ to the world?
Can you consider detaching from the things of the world, to see them as gifts from God and that you are just a steward left in their care?
Let us pray: (a part of Psalm 139, the apostles might have felt this when they met Jesus)
Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach.
Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my concerns.
See if my way is crooked, then lead me in the ancient paths.