Scripture Readings: Book of Jonah 3:1-5,10; First Corinthians 7: 29-31; Gospel According to Saint Mark 1:14-20
The Christmas Season has ended and the Season of Lent is still some weeks off. We are once again in “Ordinary Time,” as it’s called, and the focus of the Scripture readings this Sunday is on God’s call and the choice we humans have to heed that call or ignore it. It’s always clear in Scripture that we are never forced by God, but lovingly invited, to take up the invitation to be a follower of the Lord and to give ourselves to a life of love and service of God and neighbor.
An old saying that seems to go well with the idea of this Sunday’s Scripture readings is this: “Time is of the essence”; that is, life in short and what we chose now will have consequences for our eternal life, never losing sight of what is called our “eternal destiny,” where and how we will spend eternity. Hopefully we want it to be with God and the saints in heaven, but we must be actively pursuing that goal as we pass through this earthly sojourn. The often-used biblical phrase for this notion is this: “Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation” (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 6:2).
The Book of Jonah, written a few centuries before the birth of Christ, is a good place to start a consideration of time and eternity. The minor prophet Jonah initially rejects God’s call, but eventually gives himself tirelessly to the task of convincing the people of Nineveh of the need for rejecting sin and turning to God. For them, the time designated for doing so was forty days. Ultimately, the people heed the call of Jonah by turning from bad behavior and back to God with sincere hearts.
The forty days to do “convert” calls to mind the time frame of the annual Season of Lent, comprised of the same number of days, but that will be the focus more during the Lententide, beginning this year on February 14th.
As the people of Nineveh changed their ways, so God, we are told, “repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” God altered the divine plan and decided not to fulfill a prophesy of destroying the Ninevites.
In the Gospel today we see Andrew and Peter, as well as the sons of Zebedee, James and John, being called by Jesus to “change their ways,” which were not necessarily bad, but taking up a decidedly new way and different way of life as followers of Jesus, who, we are told, “summoned them on the spot,” and they immediately “went off in Jesus’ company.”
These “surprise visits” of the Lord, to the people of Nineveh and to the first followers of Jesus, harmonize well with what Saint Paul expresses in the second reading for Mass this Sunday: “those who make use of the world [should do so] as though were not using it [the world].” Why? Because, “the world as we know it is passing away.”
This doesn’t mean nervous fretting or “living in the clouds,” thereby neglecting the duties before us each day, but it means putting it all in perspective, living to the full in love, and thereby living in the way God intends for us.
The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is an appointed time for every matter under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die’ (Eccles 3:1,2). This means we need to be attentive to the fact the Lord’s voice is addressed to us, to “come after me,” as he tells the first Apostles. They were important words for them, but also intended for us, today and every day.
However short or long our life might be, we have the opportunity to grow in our commitment to adhere to the Lord, to set bad actions aside, and to live good and honorable lives. The Book of Deuteronomy expresses the idea this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5). None of us does this perfectly, but we’re called to make it a priority in our daily existence nonetheless.
Reflecting on God’s call in our life, we make see great deficiencies or disappointments in our ways of responding to that call, but we can always turn these into opportunities to do differently, better and more joyfully. Rather than be sad or disillusioned, we can become stronger in our approach to life and all that it entails. Jonah’s initial reluctance and frustration in the face of God’s call ultimately became an announcement of God’s desire for the salvation of the world, centuries before the birth of Christ.
We need to be realists about “using this world and not using it,” meaning we must do our part willingly and energetically, to build up the human family. At the same time, we depend on God to act in us and give us grace to make this all possible. Sometimes this is called the “way of the mystics,” which doesn’t mean have visions, hear voices or possessing the ability to levitate. Rather, it means being on fire for God’s way, forgetting self and being wholly a person who knows, loves and serves God. Every day there are golden opportunities to extend God-like love to those who are in our lives or who cross our path unexpectedly.
May the Lord grant us humble surrender to achieve our goals. “With God we shall do bravely,” as Psalm 60(59):12, expresses it. Psalm 56(55):11 says: “In God I trust, I shall not fear.” Two very good “mottos” to keep in mind throughout our life.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB