Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday word, 25 Jan 2009

Third Sunday of the Year B (25 Jan 2009)
Jon 3. 1-5, 10-4.1; Ps 25; 1Co 7. 29-31; Mk 1. 14-20
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Reluctant or Ready?

Besides the call to repent, do the readings about Jonah and Jesus have anything in common? I suggest "response" is one thing linking them. Let’s begin with selection from Jonah.

Details about the Jonah account can distract our attention: a fish swallowing a human; the large size of the city of Nineveh; its population. The details are not the point; God’s desire to send Jonah as agent of God’s hope for people to be in relationship with God is the point.

Jonah lived according to the covenant God made first with Abraham. The covenant was relationship with God. The covenant established norms for living so that people already in relationship with God could draw others to God. The one God called to do this, Jonah, did not want to be God’s agent, which is why Jonah was aboard a ship in the first place. At the beginning of the Book of Jonah, Jonah spurned God’s first invitation to preach to Nineveh: Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the Lord. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went aboard to journey with them to Tarshish, away from the Lord./1/

Natural forces denied Jonah his wish and brought him to the great city. Jonah was effective and he was, as we heard, angry, and admitted to himself and God that was why he left home./2/

Remarkable reaction, isn’t it, that Jonah, who lived by the covenant, was angry that large numbers of people outside the covenant responded positively to God through him!

Jonah reluctantly brought good news of a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish,/3/ and many responded positively and welcomed his word. It leads me to ponder if I am more like Jonah or more like the people of Nineveh: am I a reluctant Catholic, or do I welcome my faith as a gift and the guarantee of my relationship with God?

In a similar way, details in the gospel might distract us, especially the immediate response of those Jesus called to follow him in his company. Again the point isn’t immediacy, it’s relationship.

Gospel meant good news: of a monarch, of a deity, of a prophet. Mark’s narrative of Jesus shaped another meaning for the word: a chronicle or report. That second meaning has become primary for us. The original meaning, good news, is more dynamic and inviting. Consider it.

When someone tells you, “I have news for you”; or when someone is specific, “Good news!”: our first instinct is to listen. If someone says, “I received some bad news,” we may call forth courage to listen even if we’d rather not. Listening to another binds us. It may be temporary as on a plane, in a store, at the salon or at a class. It may be longer lasting as with schoolmates, neighbors, friends & family.

Listening is not only about others. When we listen freely and without filters to others, we learn about ourselves. Those Jesus called had been seeking for meaning in their lives, hoping for the messiah. Their seeking and hoping shaped their positive reaction to God. Their seeking and hoping freed them to respond to Jesus wholeheartedly, with undivided loyalty, which their immediate and total response to Jesus’ invitation showed.

The point of today’s scriptures, friends, is wholehearted response to God’s compassion, even in the face of things which discount it. We find meaning not in things passing away, to use St. Paul's phrase. We find it in our relationships, especially relationship with God. We access God’s compassion the more we respond to it with open hearts and minds.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause in the presence of the Trinity. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. Speak with Jesus about your determination and energy to respond to Jesus inviting you. Tell Jesus what stands in your way of responding to him. Ask for the grace to overcome what keeps you from responding wholeheartedly to Jesus. Close your prayer by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Its reminder that God’s kingdom dawns on earth heaven, encourages us and frees our hearts to respond as we are now.
1. Jonah 1.3.
2. Jonah 4.2.
3. Ibid.

Wiki-images of Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh and Jesus calling Peter and Andrew are in the public domain.

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