3rd Sunday of Ordinary time (21 January 2018)

Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

The readings this week challenge us to confront the truth about repentance. Why is it so important to repent of our sins? And why do we not take to heart the repeated cries in Scripture that we repent and turn away from sin and towards God?
The first reading is about the work of the reluctant prophet Jonah. God wanted to send Jonah to the people of Nineveh, a great city of wealth and prosperity. Ironically and perhaps because of its great success, it was in particular need of repentance – to turn away from the things of this world and towards the eternal promises of God. Jonah repeatedly declined God’s call until he finally relented and when he preached repentance to the people they responded with willing hearts. They proclaimed a fast and grieved for their sins and God spared them the judgment that awaited them. There are many lessons in this short passage. First, God’s mercy is boundless. He will wait patiently and will forgive the truly repentant sinner. There is no better example of this than the repentant prisoner who crucified prisoner who was beside Jesus. Second, the things of this world can be too strong a lure for us and can obscure from our sight our real mission, which is to yearn for eternity with God. Third, we tend to take time for granted. Jonah’s message had an immediacy that demanded a prompt response – only forty days more! All too often we think of the future as remote and distant and hence irrelevant with fatal consequences. Fourth, Nineveh was saved because Jonah finally responded to God’s call. We too must respond to His call to spread the Good News of the Salvation won for us by the work of Jesus.
In the second reading, Paul emphasizes these themes. Time is short and hence the time to repent and turn to God is now. Paul challenges us to look at our world through the eyes of eternity. It is not for this world that God made us but for the Eternal Kingdom in heaven. If we understand this, we will immediately see that our time in this world is meant to be a time of preparation for that day when we will be reunited with God. Nothing should be allowed to hold us back from God – not even our spouses. Everything should be seen in perspective because nothing in this world can inflict on us real sorrow or real joy. That comes from being admitted into God’s family in heaven or from being excluded from it. Paul puts it pithily – do not become engrossed in the world. Indeed, it is transient and offers nothing of lasting value.
In the Gospel, Jesus Himself preaches the message of repentance. God needs nothing of us; but He chooses to allow us to participate in His work by being His agents in spreading the message of repentance. Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John to follow Him and become fishers of men. This mission consisted of ensuring that others repented and claimed the gift of salvation that Jesus offers freely. If we don’t tell others, how will they know? Peter and Andrew and James and John left everything to go with Jesus and do whatever He asked of them.
The apostles were not engrossed in this world. Though they were very much engaged in their daily business, they were prepared to drop everything to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Their spirit of obedience exemplifies what repentance is ultimately about. It is about choosing to wager the things of this life for the prize of eternity.
Some points for reflection as you read the passages:

  1. What did God see that Jonah failed to see about the people of Nineveh? What difference did it make to the people of Nineveh that they only had 40 days left?
  2. How are you engrossed in the world? How does being engrossed in the world interfere with your spiritual life? Why is it important not to be so engrossed?
  3. Make a list of all the things that the first disciples left to answer the call of Jesus. What do you think was the hardest thing about saying yes to Jesus?