Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRD SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

JANUARY 26

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25:4-9;

1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

OUR GOOD NEWS: Being "converted" means we should start doing things differently; to "believe" means committing oneself to Christ over everyone and everything else. Jonah (First reading) differs from other prophetic books. The author intended parody in his story about a Charlie Chaplin type who did everything wrong. At first selfishly refusing to prophesy, he ended up the only Old Testament prophet who genuinely succeeded in preaching repentance. After well-known adventures on the Mediterranean Sea occasioned by efforts to escape doing God's will, our "hero" finally arrived in Nineveh (modern Iraq). Assyria surely ranks with history's most brutal nations. In the course of building a vast empire its ruthless policy of exile and resettlement caused the then-northern 10 tribes of Israel to disappear from history. Jonah's prophetic word was curt and final, offering no apparent way out. "In 40 days Nineveh shall be destroyed!" Long overdue divine vengeance must finally come, or God is not God. We're utterly unprepared for the reaction of this notoriously corrupt people. Nineveh was doomed to be overthrown like Sodom and Gomorrah. And yet, the inhabitants "believed God" - acknowledged His right to judge and the justice of threatened punishment. Pagan Ninevites did what Israel and even Moses and Aaron were incapable of doing, putting their trust in God solely on the word of His prophet, without corroborating great signs and wonders. Most astonishing is God's behavior and its implications for His "personality." No scolding words or show of anger toward the rebellious prophet Jonah, who earlier flagrantly disobeyed. God repeated instructions as though for the first time, and Jonah again "arose," this time not to flee but to obey. Punishment, it became clear, is conditioned upon human response and subsequent behavior. When an evil nation "repented" (turned from their evil way), God accordingly "repented" (was moved with compassion). The people changed, but God remained the same: "just" because He is consistent in gracious, forgiving love; "unjust" in refusing to make people pay or to give them what they deserve. Behind this simple, rather naive story lies a truth we may find too good to be true. Perhaps contrary to our religious upbringing, God is here revealed as always wanting to forgive even the worst of sinners, who need only admit to their evil ways and resolve to turn from them. Unbelievers like the ancient Ninevites often shame us so-called God-fearing people who grow insensitive to the workings of divine grace. Finally, God reveals Himself as marvelously nonjudgmental, not put off by petulant disobedience. In describing the call of Jesus' first disciples, today's Gospel emphasized how we sinners are to respond with total commitment, even to abandoning our accustomed style of life and family. "Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men." Individuals are not called apart but into community (the first four were summoned in pairs). Missionary outreach becomes the responsibility of every believer, not just of the clergy. Earlier, in the prophet Jeremiah, "people-fishers" ferreted out evildoers for divine judgment, but Jesus turned this dismal image into a joyful metaphor for helping others find salvation.

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