Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
From the earliest of times God has called human persons to be with him for he is the creator who has made every human person in his own image and likeness and desires to have constant contact with him. He invites all human persons to a personal relationship with him and when they do wrong and go astray; he invites them to a spirit of repentance to make them live a life worthy of him. Repentance means to turn around, and go in the opposite direction, change ones way of thinking, change their values, change the mind and heart, change their desires, and more importantly change the direction of life. It means that there is a total conversion and a total transformation in the person. However there comes a time in the life of every child of God to respond to his invitation to follow Him closely and participate in His mission. This might require a change in their present career into a service dedicated for God. There are several paths one can choose to follow Jesus, be it in the teaching, medical, legal profession or retailing business, there is one basic decision to make: whether to pursue it solely as a means of livelihood and personal enhancement or to use it as a means of service to God and humanity. In the Gospel of today Jesus invites all to repent and to listen to the Good News that he is going to give. He calls the disciples to continue his mission of repentance and the proclamation of the Kingdom. In the first reading we have Prophet Jonah who is asked by God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. Even though Jonah runs away from God in the beginning, he is brought back to preach. People listen to his word and repent from their sin. God listens to their prayer and forgives them. In the second reading Paul asked the Corinthians to remember that life is short and the world as we know it is passing away. He preaches total detachment and to live without being engrossed into it.
In today’s First Reading from the Book of Jonah, we heard how Jonah responded to God’s calling. Jonah was called by God and told to get up and to go to Nineveh, that great city, where he was to proclaim the message of the Lord. The Book of Jonah itself is a sermon in the form of a story. The theme of the sermon is that God is the Lord of all nations and not of Jews only, and the Jews who have the knowledge of God must spread it among the gentile nations. The Jews who had returned from exile had refused this task and therefore God sends Jonah to the Gentiles to preach to make him an example. When Jonah had refused God punishes him and brings him back once again for his mission. In obedience to the Lord God, Jonah sets out and goes to Nineveh. He proclaims the Divine Word of God, advising the people of Nineveh that unless they repent of their sins, they and their city would be destroyed in forty days. Fearing the wrath of God, the people realize the gravity of their sins against God and repent. Immediately, they proclaim a fast, and everyone, from the greatest to the least important pray to God for forgiveness. They recognize the Word of God and turn away from their evil ways. Consequently, God changed his mind about the calamity that he was about to send to Nineveh. Through Jonah, the servant of the Lord, the people were once more united in the righteous ways of the Lord God.
Paul in today’s Second Reading tells the Corinthians to live in total freedom and detachment. Nothing we have, whether things or personal attachments, are permanent and can disappear at a moment’s notice. Whether life is very good or very bad: nothing lasts except the fundamental values of truth and love, of freedom and justice. He was preparing his community to be ready for the Lord who is going to come to judge the humankind. Therefore he tells those with families remain detached with their minds set on the Lord. He tells those who have wives to act as if they have none, those who mourn as though they were not mourning, those who rejoice as if they were not rejoicing, those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world, as though they had no dealings with it. The reason is that the present form of this world would be passing away. Those who are married, because of the responsibilities that come with the married life and involvement in the world, can become an obstacle to their precious spiritual growth and communion with the Lord. The celibate person through their intended perfect consecration to God in body and spirit, they have the opportunity to immediately taste the life of glory that all Christians anticipate. He does not tell them to shun away from all gifts God has given. Rather it is the abuse of the God given gifts that can make us unfit for the kingdom. Our life has to be always in readiness for God.
The setting of today’s gospel is immediately after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, when he received the commission from his Father and was filled with the Spirit of God. This Spirit will lead him from now on to the desert, to the public ministry, and finally to his suffering and his cross. The Gospel tells us that John the Baptist had been recently arrested, literally meaning handed over into the hands of the enemies. John came as the precursor and had completed his work of preparing the path of Jesus. He was arrested because he had challenged the authorities regarding their immoral behaviour. After the imprisonment of John, Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee and proclaimed his mission. He commenced his task by announcing the Good News, the Gospel, filled with hope. He began with the declaration that this was indeed the time of fulfilment which means it was the period of human history when God’s promises become a reality. Jesus summed up this message very simply in two lines: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, and Repent and believe in the Good News. It was the Good News of truth, of hope, of peace, of Divine promise, of immortality and of salvation. This good news would embrace all of humanity on earth, would enable them to share the eternal happiness with him. Hence Jesus told his audience in Galilee that the time has now come, it was opportune moment, and they are invited to take part into this new life. This expected time was the arrival of the Messiah, the Saviour King for whom they had been waiting.
Jesus announced the Kingdom of God and told them that the Kingdom was close at hand. The kingdom of God was the central theme of Jesus’ mission. It was the core of his gospel message. Kingdom is God’s rule in the heart of every person. This Kingdom existed at the foundation of the world and it will be fulfilled at the end of times. This kingdom which Jesus is re-establishing is not a place but rather consists of relationships. Those belonging to the kingdom are those who accept the life vision that Jesus gave to us and whose lives are based on that vision of life. It does not matter who they are or where they are and it exists here and now. The Kingdom extends far wider than the Church, which is called to be the sign pointing to the Kingdom’s presence among us. In announcing the good news, Jesus gave two explicit things each person must do to in order to receive the kingdom of God: repent and believe. When we submit to Christ’s rule in our lives and believe the gospel message Jesus gives the grace and power to live a new way of life as citizens of his kingdom. He gives grace to renounce the kingdom of darkness to receive the new light. That is why repentance is the first step. Repentance means to change, to transform our way of thinking, our attitude, disposition, and life choices so that Christ can be the Lord and Master of our heart. If we are only sorry for the consequences of our sins, we will very likely keep repeating the sin that is mastering us. True repentance requires a contrite heart and sorrow for sin and a firm resolution to avoid it in the future.
In his first public announcement Jesus told the people how they have to prepare to enter the Kingdom. They have to turn away from their sins, believe in Jesus and listen to the Good News. In his message Jesus wanted people to reform which is a positive concept. It is not just abstaining from sin but a total change of heart towards God, an attempt to live a good life. He was calling them to turn from the formalism in religion to a more sincere worship while placing their emphasis on justice, mercy and fidelity to the covenant. This attitude continues in their forgiveness of others, including those who had wronged them. In this proclamation there contained a sense of urgency. The Kingdom indeed was close at hand and they had to search for it immediately. If they lost it now it could be lost forever. There was the precious value that was contained in it and therefore there must be greater effort to discover it. It consisted of believing in the Good News and Jesus is the Good News. To believe is to take Jesus at his word and to recognize that God loved us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to free us from bondage to sin and harmful desires. God made the supreme sacrifice of his Son on the cross to bring us back to a relationship of peace and friendship with himself. He is our Father and he wants us to live as his sons and daughters. God loved us first and he invites us in love to surrender our lives to him.
The second part of today’s Gospel shows the first responses to this call. Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, the son of Zebedee and his brother John to be his followers. They were fishermen who were called by Jesus as he told them: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” At once as Mark says, Peter and Andrew left their nets and all their earthly possessions and means of livelihood to follow Jesus. The other two brothers, James and John also left their father Zebedee who was with his hired men, to follow Jesus. Luke in his narrative tells us this following of Jesus was after a miraculous catch of fish. Their response was sudden, total and complete with no hesitation. Jesus called them to be with him and they simply said yes to him and went with him. Their future was uncertain but theirs was indeed a complete act of trust and a total surrender of themselves to Jesus. Actually, they may not have had any idea where they were going and for what purpose. This was the extent of their great trust in this man who came out of nowhere into their lives and challenged them to leave behind their security and follow him. They would, in fact, go through many unexpected experiences, some of them joyful, some of them full of pain. They would indeed become part of his mission, continuing a great movement begun by Jesus to bring people to a new way of living in truth, love, freedom and justice. But they never regretted that day they walked away from their security and never looked back. They found experiences that transcended all their dreams. By answering their calling, they became faithful servants of the Lord, their names going down in history so we may remember and model after their example, their living faith in Christ.
When Jesus preached the gospel message he called a small group of people to become his disciples and he gave them a mission – “to catch people for the kingdom of God”. The type of disciples he chose was surprising. In the choice of the first apostles we see a characteristic feature of Jesus’ work: he chose very ordinary people. They were ordinary simple fishermen. They were non-professionals, had no wealth or status in society. They were chosen from among the common people who did ordinary things, had no special education, and no social advantages. Jesus wanted ordinary people who could take an assignment and do it extraordinarily well. He chose these individuals, not for what they were, but for what they would be capable of becoming under his direction and power. When the Lord calls someone to serve him there is no question to say what special thing they offer. The Lord takes what ordinary people and makes use of them for his kingdom. We believe that God works marvels through simple, ordinary persons. Jesus speaks the same message to us today: we will “catch people” for the kingdom of God if we allow his light to shine through us. God wants others to see the light of Christ in us in the way we live, speak, and witness the joy of the gospel. Therefore Paul says, but thanks be to God, who in Christ Jesus always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads, the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.
The preaching of Jesus must have been very powerful and his charismatic nature so attractive that people were ready to accept his invitation to follow him. The invitation of Jesus continues even now in our today’s world. Each one of us has been called by Jesus as he tells us: “I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.” Today we are called us to his mission to preach repentance and live out a particular lifestyle like him. We are called to see Christ in each person we encounter and we are called to become people of peace. Thus the readings of today present a call for us to transform ourselves according to the mind of Jesus. He invites us constantly to work for his kingdom and respond to him whole heartedly to be at his service. God selects ordinary persons as he did with Jonah to fulfil his mission or as he called Peter and his companions. The word of God tells us that in whichever state we live in we must be ready to experience his kingdom in our hearts. Let this Eucharist of today be for us a guiding lamp to discover the place of the Kingdom in our life.
Many years ago there was a woman who lived in a small village in France. Trained as a nurse she devoted her life caring for the sick and the needy. After many years of kind and dedicated service to the people of the village, the woman died. She had no family of her own and so the people planned a beautiful funeral for her. It was fitting tribute to the woman who had served them so much. However the problem came about the place of burial for the person. Since she was a Protestant she could not be buried in the Catholic Cemetery and there was no Protestant Cemetery in the village. The Parish Priest being served by her did want to bury her there but the law was very strict. So she had to be buried outside fence of the cemetery. On the day of the burial the whole village accompanied the casket to the cemetery and was buried just outside the fence. But at night a group of villagers armed with shovels, sneaked into the cemetery. They quietly moved the fence so as to bring her grave into the burial ground, as the priest happily watched from his window.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Bangalore, India