Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
January 25, 2015
Jonah 3:1-5.10, Ps 25, 1 Cor 7:29-31, Mk 1:14-20
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
Christian Growth from Jesus’ Perspective
Last week we examined the type of growth in faith that is meant to happen in the life of every Christian. We did so, we can say, from the subjective perspective, from the experience of St. Andrew and St. John, passing from fascination and curiosity about Jesus, to the trust that characterizes following him as disciples, to the enthusiastic sharing of the faith that marks the apostolate. Today we have a chance to examine the type of growth that is meant to characterize our Christian life from Jesus’ own perspective with the help of Jesus’ words and actions at the beginning of his public ministry. In Jesus’ inaugural 18-word homily (16 words in St. Mark’s Greek) and in his conversations with his first followers after, we see six different elements that are important for us to capture. This is what Jesus had waited his entire hidden life in Nazareth to announce and do. It’s also what he, as God, had been waiting since the Fall to establish: “The time is fulfilled,” he said, “and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel!”
Jesus announces first two essential facts: The first is, “The time is fulfilled.” Jesus proclaims an urgency. He says that the time of waiting is over. The time to act is now. St. Paul repeats the point in today’s second reading, when he said, “Brothers and sisters, the time is running out” and “the world in its present form is passing away.” For this reason all earthly realities must be reevaluated, from marriage, to mourning, to rejoicing, to business, to all interactions in the world. The second fact is, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus declares that God’s kingdom is here. God’s presence is erupting, the time to enter his kingdom, to share in his reign, is now. Both of these truths point to the objective reality emerging all around us. After the two facts, Jesus turns to four ways we’re supposed to respond to this reality. These are the four conditions for entering and living in his kingdom. These are the four ways we won’t waste the time God has given us but make the most of it. The first is “Repent.” The second is “Believe.” The third is “Follow.” And the fourth is “Fish.” Let’s examine each of these realities and ask ourselves whether we’ve heeded Jesus message
The first is “repent.” In Greek, this word is metanoete, which etymologically means a total revolution of our mind, of the way we look at things. It’s a call to conversion, to no longer think as everyone else thinks, to no longer do as everyone else does, but to put on the mind of God, to align our heart and our actions to him. It means to compare ourselves to God rather than to everyone else and to recognize we’re not yet living enough as the image and likeness of God. For some people this will mean a 180-degree turn. For others it might mean a 50-degree turn or a 10-degree turn. But all of us need this conversion and we will always need it. The Christian life is one of continual conversion, in which we literally learn how fully to “turn with” Jesus (con-vert) in all parts of our life. As he turns in prayer to the Father, we turn with him; as he turns with charity to our neighbor, we turn with him; as he turns with mercy to a family member who has sinned against him and against us, we, too turn with mercy. This call to continual metanoia means that we’re incessantly seeking to change for the better to become more and more like the Lord who calls us to that penance and renewal. This is the type of conversion we see among the pagan Ninevites in today’s first reading. Jonah’s message featured the same type of urgency to which Jesus calls all of us in the Gospel: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” The Ninevites didn’t wait until 39 and a half days were done to respond to the message. They recognized that they had been living as if they, not God, were in charge, as if the world were their kingdom, not His. Jonah’s message brought them to recognize that God was present and he wasn’t happy with their immorality. Jonah called them to repentance, and they converted, and did so right away. “They turned from their evil ways,” we read. They fasted, and “everyone, great and small,” even down to their pets, put on sackcloth. And they began to live by faith: as we see toward the end of today’s passage, “the people of Nineveh believed in God. This is the type of metanoia to which the Lord calls us and calls our society. Not everyone in Nineveh was a notorious sinner, but everyone did penance for the Nineveh’s sins, because everyone recognized that even if they were committing terrible outrages, they were all complicit in a culture that allowed it. What was true for the pagan Ninevites is just as true for Catholic Americans today. On Thursday, we marked the 42nd anniversary of the atrocious Roe v. Wade decision that has led to the legal execution of 55 million smaller, younger, more vulnerable brothers and sisters made in God’s image and likeness in our country alone, another one every 23 seconds. This is a legal atrocity that we Catholics, 25 percent of our population, would be able to end all by ourselves if we Catholics took our call to be the Salt of the Earth seriously. This is just one reason why all of us need to hear the urgent call to repentance, personally and communally. ”The Lord who calls us to this metanoia will give us all the help he knows we need to achieve it, but we have to correspond.
The second word is “believe.” To believe means not just to accept something as true. To believe means totally to submit oneself to a reality on the basis of a trust in the one testifying to the reality. To believe means to entrust ourselves completely to Jesus and on that foundation ground our lives on what he says. The Christian life is meant to be marked with this type of faith. Because of our trust in Jesus we believe in what he tells us about the path of happiness in the Beatitudes and we seek to align our whole lives to what he says. Because of our trust in Jesus we believe in what he reveals to us about God the Father and we ground our existence on that Father’s love and call. Because of our trust in Jesus we believe in what he says about his presence in the Eucharist, about his sending out the apostles and their successors for the forgiveness of sins in confession, about what he says about caring for others as if we were caring for him, about what he says about praying for our persecutors and even loving our enemies. To believe in him, to believe in the Gospel he enunciates and enfleshes, means truly to seek to grow in both our intellectual knowledge of the Gospel and our putting it into practice. It means sincerely to say to the Lord, as we prayed in today’s Psalm, “Teach me your ways, O Lord,” and then to walk in the Lord’s truth. The Year for Consecrated Life we’re marking is an opportunity for us to reflect on the faith of those in consecrated life, especially our patroness St. Bernadette and the saintly founders of so many religious institutes who gave their whole life to God in faith and because of that bore so much fruit, and seek to imitate that faith. The Lord who calls us to this faith will give us all the help he knows we need to live by it, but we need to correspond to that help.
The third word is “follow me” or “Come after me.” Jesus says those words to Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John in the Gospel and they immediately left their nets, their boats, their fish, their employees and their families to follow him. They were open to the type of revolution in the way they looked at their life that is contained in Jesus’ word metanoete and they believed in Jesus already enough to leave everything behind on a dime to base their entire life on his word calling them to follow him. Likewise for us it’s not enough to repent and to believe, because the Lord Jesus always calls us to follow him in faith, turning back on other things. The Christian life features this type of discipleship, in which we focus on following the Lord Jesus. And this following is meant to continue our whole life, following the Good Shepherd into dark valleys and up steep mountains, following him up close on the Way of the Cross all the way to heaven. When Jesus says, “Come after me,” it’s important that we grasp why, because often we seek to lead the Lord rather than to follow him. St. Peter was guilty of the same tendency. After the Lord Jesus had told the apostles that he would be betrayed, tortured, crucified, killed and on the third day rise, St. Peter rebuked him saying that no such thing would happen to him. That’s when Jesus called him “Satan,” and told him, “Get behind me, for you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.” Because Peter wasn’t converted yet to the Lord’s ways, because he was thinking with human categories rather than divine, he was trying to guide the Lord rather than be guided by him. So Jesus told him, “Get behind me,” so that he actually could follow. When we convert and believe in Christ, we likewise seek to follow rather than direct the Lord, to be his disciple rather than his Master. The Lord who calls us to this type of following that is characteristic of discipleship will give us all the help he knows we need to achieve it, but we have to correspond.
And the fourth word is “fish.” Jesus says in the Gospel that if we follow him, “I will make you fishers of men.” He will form us to be apostles, to spread the faith, to draw others to him with the same message, that the time is now, that the door to the Kingdom of God is open, and they’ll enter it through repentance, faith, discipleship and apostolate.
Some embrace this reality of the type of Christian growth that flourishes in apostolate quite readily. In today’s Gospel, we see that when Jesus called Simon and Andrew, John and James, to follow him, they “immediately” left their boats, their businesses, even their families behind and followed him. It was an urgent call from the king himself, and they didn’t hesitate. They turned away from everything and, in faith, embraced him who is everything, who created everything. And before they knew it, they were being sent out by him to announce Christ’s kingdom. The response of Jonah from the first reading wasn’t so neat and prompt. The first time God called him to “go at once to Ninevah, that great city and cry out against it,” he “set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:2-4). We know what happened afterward. There was a great storm and the passengers on the ship, hearing from Jonah that he was running away from the Lord, tossed him overboard so that they might not all suffer a calamity. Fearing for his life, Jonah turned back to God and prayed, and God saved him miraculously. As soon as Jonah was back on shore, God spoke to him again, with the words that begin our first reading: “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” And Jonah this time went without hesitation. The question for us is whether we, too, need a miraculous rescue from a whale in order to take the Lord’s summons seriously. Will we recognize that the Lord is calling us like he called Jonah and doesn’t want us to defer.
Sometimes we’re tempted to try to run away from God and his call because we fear that we may suffer. We grasp that often the recipient of the prophet’s or apostle’s message won’t respond as readily as the pagan Ninevites did. When Jesus sent out Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other apostles the first time, to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he told them he was sending them out as “lambs into the midst of wolves.” He told them to “cure the sick” and say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you,” but warned them that some would welcome them and some would reject them (Lk 10:3-12). When they were ready for more, he gave them the commission to proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins” to “all nations, beginning from Jerusalem,” (Lk 24:47) but he also told them clearly what would happen to them. They would receive the same destiny as Jesus, received by some and rejected by many. About Jerusalem, God’s own city, from where that proclamation would start, Jesus said that not even God would be accepted in his native place: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Mt 23:37; cf. Lk 4:24). He told his prophets: “They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name; they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name (Lk 21:12; Mt 24:9). The reason why they would suffer the same fate as Jesus he told them during the celebration of the first Mass: because “servants are not greater than their master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (Jn 15:20). They would be rejected because people were rejecting God in them. And we saw that this in fact happened. For Christ and like him, the apostles were thrown into prison. They suffered. And ten of the eleven original apostles were martyred. But as we read in the a beautiful part of the Acts of the Apostles, “they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts 5:41). They were able to grasp that preaching through suffering, persecution and even martyrdom was one of the most powerful and eloquent ways to show that the Kingdom of God was at hand, that the rulers of this world were not able to intimidate those who were living in God’s kingdom. And we know the fruits of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom in the age of persecution: it had a tremendous role in helping to convert the Roman empire.
Peter, Andrew, James, John, Jonah and so many others have accomplished their prophetic missions and are triumphantly with the Lord. Now it’s our turn. In the fullness of time, right now, the Lord has called us to conversion and faith and has commissioned us to be his followers and fishermen today. Some of us, perhaps most of us, may be attempted to respond like Jonah and try to run away from God’s presence and duck the real meaning and mission of the Christian life. Others, like the first apostles, might respond immediately to the task. But regardless of how we feel about it, regardless of to what degree we’ve responded up until now, the Lord has given us this mission, which concerns not only our salvation but the salvation of the world. He has called us to announce with urgency that the Kingdom is here now, and if people wish to enter it, they must now renounce sin and everything that keeps from God and believe and live his Gospel.
To strengthen us for this mission, the Lord Jesus gives us himself. He gives us his words and then himself as the Word-made-flesh so that we might be living, breathing commentaries of what it means to repent, to believe, to follow and to fish. Let us receive wholeheartedly that help and respond fully to our Christian life and mission!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 Jon 3:1-5, 10
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD’S bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing,
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, “
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble his way.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Reading 2 1 Cor 7:29-31
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.
Alleluia Mk 1:15
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mk 1:14-20
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.