3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading – Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

This is a story about Jonah the prophet.  God told Jonah to bring about the redemption of Ninevah, to which Jonah ran in the opposite direction toward the sea  (How often do WE run away from where God may be leading us?).  The sea became stormy and the sailors thought Jonah was bringing God’s wrath to them, so he sacrificed himself and was swallowed by a huge fish.  After 3 days, God had mercy and Jonah eventually through twists and turns went to Ninevah to do what God had said.

This story can help us ponder how we listen to God in our own lives. Is following God’s will always placid and without ambiguity? When we pray, do we really pray to know God‘s will or do we ask God to do our will? (John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy,slu.edu )

Some psychologists say that we mature not by always having everything ‘together’ and ‘successful’ – whatever that means – but we often “grow by falling apart.” Jonah’s story is sort of a parable about this ‘disintegration.’ Sometimes it is in the darkness, in the ashes, in the failures and frustrations that we journey to full maturity. In scripture this is often imaged in ‘desert or wilderness’ experiences.’ — or in Jonah’s case, the belly of a whale. Like Jonah we can find ourselves carried to some place we’d rather not go. Our successes bring us glory, while our pain, with God’s help, brings us character and compassion. Pain can mellow and enlarge our heart and our soul. The best wines are aged in cracked, old barrels. Our natural instinct, though, is to get out of the darkness and tension as quickly as possible – it is not easy to trust that God’s love can be with us in such dire circumstances. We are too often afraid to suffer, to let it do its purifying work. Yet, when we find ourselves in this ‘dark night’ we can come to know what it means to let our faith in God’s love carry us. We can care rather than cure. We can support and trust the process. We can reflect, think, pray, and talk about the situation with trusted friends and mentors. We do not need to move against the process, but find ways to relax and be comforted right in the middle of it. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile” http://liturgy,slu.edu )

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31

This is a very early letter of Paul’s. The expectation at this time was that Jesus was coming back very soon – that his life, death and resurrection had ushered in the ‘end-times.’ This belief empowered the early Christians including Paul to eagerly share the good news of Jesus Christ.

“The world as we know it is passing away” – Paul wanted us to think about the priorities that fill our lives and preoccupy our minds.  Family, emotional connections, personal belongings are important, of course, but these must be placed squarely within the realm of the world-that-is rather than misdirect our priorities from the world-to-be . . . He was not telling Christians to abandon their marital promises – but to be keenly aware that the present order of things is not the ultimate order.  Obviously, we have normal emotions of joy and sorrow; still we must live with the hope and assurance that God will wipe away every tear and fill us with lasting joy, endless peace – the fullness of life.  Detachment.

The Gospel – Mark 1: 14 – 20

Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring them to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, what fishermen do to fish is far from salutary!  He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.”  The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)

After his baptism, Jesus may have stayed around John and his followers for awhile. After John’s arrest, it seemed that Jesus began setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was a clean cut, a momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats.  This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus.  Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.”  These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. As fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.  (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)

The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen any more once they began to follow Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas returning to their families at night or after short intervals, even returning to fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity. This humanity was in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name was not just good news; it was great news! It still is and we still have the same calling.   (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 363,364)

Martin Luther King responded profoundly to God’s call of justice with great hope, faith, and love – even in the midst of violence and hatred: “If you lose hope, somehow you lose vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be . . . so today, I still have a dream.”

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One response

  1. wonderful…. as always…. I have a friend who is really struggling a lot….. I copied the Jonah part – full of insight – and sent it off with a note sharing how this kind of thinking helped me through my mid-life dark days. I know anyone’s lost times are different, unique for each person. But I could see the truth – NOW – in what you write. My friend is an amazing artist who left her job teaching (her “steady” income) and now is scared about freelancing and sad from two recent deaths, and mostly just lost. The meds she’s on keep her from crying…. NOT good….. but she lives far away. I can’t hold her. And I am a great believer in the power of tears, of releasing the brain cloud. Pam is her name. Please pray for her? Thanks.

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