Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homily for 3d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jon 3: 1-5, 10
Mark 1: 14-20
Jan. 24, 1988
St. Theresa, Bronx

On Jan. 25 of 2015, I preached without text (on the gospel, primarily) at St. Vincent's Hospital in Harrison, N.Y.  Here's a golden oldie for my handful of faithful readers.

“Jonah … had gone but a single day’s journey thru the city announcing, ‘40 days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,’ when the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jon 3: 4-5).

The little book of Jonah is one of the most interesting parts of the sacred scriptures, a masterpiece of the short story—it’s only 48 verses long—and a powerful piece of preaching.  If all we know about it is that a great fish swallowed Jonah—not a whale but a great fish (2:1)—then we’re missing a lot.

Jonah tossed overboard and into the mouth of the fish
(Notre Dame Cathedral, Tournai, Belgium)
God sends Jonah to preach repentance in Nineveh, the capital city of Israel’s enemy.  It’s like sending one of us to Teheran to tell Ayatollah and his friends to repent.  Speaking thru the sacred writer of this parable, God is telling the Israelites and us that he cares about the welfare of everyone, including people we consider enemies.

Jonah is sent, but Jonah wants no part of it.  He has already judged the Ninevites.  They’re not worthy of his efforts.  They’re too wicked.  They’re not his people.  God’s got no business picking him for such a job.  So Jonah heads in the opposite direction and God sends a storm and Jonah’s thrown overboard and swallowed by the fish and the fish spits him ashore 3 days later.  And God says, “Try again, Jonah.”

It’s not our business to be passing judgment about who deserves God’s attention to God’s mercy.  None of us is smarter than God.  Besides, if God treated us the way we think we should treat a lot of other people, we’d all be in an awful mess.

As the reading told us, Jonah goes and preaches in Nineveh.  The Ninevites respond immediately and dramatically, much to Jonah’s surprise.

Jonah misjudged the Ninevites, just as you and I repeatedly misjudge people.  We can’t see their hearts; only God can.  We can barely read our own minds and hearts, figure out our own secret motives and desires—much less anyone else’s.  We’d be a lot happier if we accepted everyone else as a fellow pilgrim in this life and left it to God to worry about their consciences.  No one, no matter how apparently bad he or she is, is beyond the reach of God’s love.

God called Jonah, and Jonah said, “No way,” the 1st time.  God didn’t take Jonah’s no for a final answer.  God is quite persistent with us, quite patient, quite gracious.

The gospel reading showed us another call, or pair of calls. And this time we’re dealing with real men and real events, not a parable.  Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John.  All 4 of these fishermen “immediately abandoned their nets” (Mark 1:18) and their families (1:20) and became Jesus’ followers.

Eventually these 4 fishermen and the other 8 apostles will become the new prophets, bringing to mankind the message of Jesus:  “The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:14).

The invitation “follow me” Jesus is still sending out to young women and men, and even older folks.  He always needs new Jonahs and new Andrews, and Joans and Andreas too.  Could he be calling you?  Will you answer by trying to run away, like Jonah?  Or will you abandon everything for Jesus and for his kingdom, like the apostles?

If someone in your family receives this divine call, will you be generous with Jesus?  Will your faith see the mystery of a vocation to the priesthood, the convent, the monastery, as a divine blessing for you as well as for the chosen one?

The Nineveh of our 20th-century world still needs the word of God.  In the Letter to the Romans St. Paul asks, “How can they believe unless they have heard of [Jesus]?  And how can they hear unless there is someone to preach?” (Rom 10:14).

God is still reaching out to every human being, as he did in Jonah’s time and in Jesus’ time.  As he needed prophets and apostles then, he still does now.  He needs us.

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