3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – Mark 1:14-20.
They might not happen very often, but at times and in ways we never could have anticipated, certain traumatic events (such as the loss of someone deeply loved or the loss of a job after years of dedicated service) shake us to the core. No doubt you can think of awful events that have happened in your own life, bitter blows that have knocked the stuffing out of you and changed you inside as a person. These experiences comes as part and parcel of our being human, and can help us to appreciate all the more the message in today’s Scriptural readings… the message of how the word of God is capable of effecting a remarkable and joyful transformation within us. When Pope Francis, in his 2019 Motu proprio ‘Aperuit illis’, instituted the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time as the ‘The Sunday of the Word of God’, his aim in doing so was to celebrate, understand and propagate the relevance of the word of God in our lives.
Now, each one of us can think of one or more events that forced radical changes upon us. Such events are so momentous that in order to move forward, we have to accept that God’s hand is at work in the situation. In the 1st Reading, the people of Nineveh found themselves in such a situation. The Word of God was given to Jonah, not only to transform Jonah himself from refusing to go to Nineveh in obedience to God’s initial command, but also to help the Ninevites to repent of their sins and so to transform their lives. In the Gospel, the initial encounter of Jesus (the logos, the Word of God spoken for the purpose of creation) with the people He called transformed their lives completely. That call was a moment of massive change for these men, who left absolutely everything to follow Jesus. While their lives, their lifestyle and their world vision were changed, so too were their daily routines and jobs. Following their response to the call of the Eternal Word, Jesus transformed them utterly. In the 2nd Reading, St. Paul exhorted the young Corinthian church to let the word that he preached to them stir up in their hearts (Ezr 1:5) as a matter of urgency a change in the way they viewed the world and lived out the rest of their lives.
Now, from these readings, we can deduce three ways in which the word of God works in the lives of believers:
- The word of God pierces the very heart of a person; it is sharper than a double-edged sword (Heb 4:12). It goes straight to the deepest part of our hearts to sow the seeds of God’s love in us (Lk 8:11). In order to maintain our spiritual connection with God, these seeds of love make us desire God more and more and lead us to perfect contrition (cf. 2Cor 7:10). This is what the people of Nineveh experienced. When Jonah preached, the entire city experienced a deep conversion of heart and made a metanoia (a 180° turn) from their evil ways. This is the foundational message that Our Lord became incarnate to bring us: repent and believe the Good News. The word of God – ‘the God News’ – leads us to repent of our sins and to make our way forward in goodness and holiness mirroring God’s love for us – ‘the Good News’.
- The word of God helps to mould the character of each believer, which is why St. Paul urged the Corinthians to allow the word of God to mould them. The word of God transforms the entire person (2Cor 3:18). Yes, it can totally change the outlook of the Christian who determines to live the life of the Gospel for Christ’s sake. St. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to live out their lives deliberately disengaged from the cares and priorities of worldly thinking, in recognition that the world is only temporal and is already passing away (1Jn 2:17). In allowing the word of God to model our behaviour as Children of God, we are moved to cultivate not only the virtue of modesty but all the virtues of Christ (2Pet 1:5ff). How come? Because It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20).
- The word of God prompts us to become self-effacing, in the sense of subjugating ourselves entirely to Christ. In the Gospel, upon hearing Jesus’ call, those four disciples left their nets and followed Him immediately. They left their nets and followed Him, just as the Ninevites obeyed the call to repentance and renounced their sins. By leaving their nets and boats, they signalled that their conversion was authentic. These fishermen transferred their skills to become fishers of men. They were to keep their eyes on The Lord and never to allow themselves to be distracted by ephemerals. As in our time, while some people devote their entire working life to front-line ministry, others with the charism of deliberate extrication from the world function as their support workers. Both ways of serving God are signs of leaving our nets to follow Jesus.
Furthermore, our response to Our Lord today may not come in the context of ‘leaving our nets and boats’ in practical terms, but in the sense of setting-aside our personal desires and pleasures for the sake of God. So, the question arises: what are you willing to set aside for love of Jesus, if you haven’t done so already? What is there in your life that needs to be left behind or given up in order to follow Him? Don’t you realise that time is of the essence, that the time to act is now? As St. Paul says (v.29)…time is growing short! The word of God is alive and active (Heb 4:12), and is able to transform us completely into living out the rest of our temporal lives in internal and eternal joy with Him! Jesus is the Word in Person (Jn 1:1;1:14). ‘Following Christ’ is to follow Him relationally in the entirety of His Personhood. Remember that Jesus didn’t invite the disciples to ‘follow My teaching’, although they were called to disseminate it throughout the world after the Resurrection. Rather, He said: follow Me. He wants us to follow Him in the entirety of His being, His love, His virtue, His example and (yes) His teaching. This is why He has bestowed upon us the gift of His whole Self – His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – in the Holy Eucharist.
Finally, and very importantly, whenever we hear the voice of Jesus calling us to follow Him, no matter how suddenly the call comes or how unprepared we may be to respond to it, no matter how painful or how bad our worldly circumstances are, we are 100% assured that the hand of God is at work. He is working His purpose out (Habk 2:14). We are not alone, He has not abandoned us, and our detachment and our suffering are not in vain. May the Lord speak to us in the very depth of our being to effect those changes that He desires to make in us. Amen. God bless you.