Jon 3:1-5, 10; I Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1: 14-20
A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small. The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible. The little girl said, “When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah.” The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?” The little girl replied, “Then you ask him.”
Today’s first reading is from the Book of Jonah. It is the only time that the Book of Jonah appears in the Sunday lectionary, and we are at a great disadvantage because we have only a piece of this story. We would discover an astounding revelation, an startling truth concerning God’s mercy.
For the Jew of the 1st century BC, Nineveh represented the seat of godlessness, immorality and corruption. Materialism expressing itself in all forms of immorality, corruption and crime was the order of the day in Nineveh. For pious Jews like Jonah, Nineveh was the godforsaken city, the highway to perdition where evil reigned without any hope of change. For them Nineveh was a hopeless case, peopled by lost souls without the slightest hope of regaining God’s favor. No wonder Jonah objected to being sent there. As far as he was concerned the mission to Nineveh was nothing but an exercise in futility. The big surprise in the story is that as soon as the “godforsaken” people of Nineveh heard the word of God, they receive it with eagerness, repent with sincerity, and regain God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Even today God seeks men and women to send on the mission to Nineveh. Where is our Nineveh today? Our Nineveh today can be found in wherever God is rejected. It can be in our own families, in our neighborhood, in our little town or in our own hearts of selfishness.
There was a young boy who wanted to go down to the lake and fish and his mother asked him to take his little sister with him. He said, “Mom, don’t make me take her with me. The last time she came with me I didn’t catch a single fish.” The mother said, “I’ll talk to her and I promise this time she won’t make any noise.” The boy said, “Mom, it wasn’t the noise. She ate all my bait!”
In today’s gospel we see the would-be apostles, Simon and Andrew, called to make a radical decision about the rest of their lives. They are fishermen. They are busy with their trade, casting nets, but we do not hear that they caught any fish. Probably on this particular day they too, were going through a state of depression and near-despair. It is in this state of mind that they hear the word of God addressed to them by Jesus: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). They leave their nets at once and follow Jesus.
There comes a time in the life of every child of God when God invites us to follow Him more closely and to participate in His mission. God’s call to follow and serve Him often takes us to places we would never have dreamt of going.
Our responsibility today is to respond to God’s Call. Every one of us is called by God, both individually and collectively. The mission of preaching, teaching and healing which Jesus began in Galilee is now the responsibility of the Church. Our own unique vocation and our relationship with the risen Lord are the same as that of the universal Church. Be we religious, priests, married or single people, we are all called, and in this call we become what God wants us to be.
The call, of course, begins with our Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. It is strengthened throughout the years with the Eucharist and Reconciliation, healed and consoled by Anointing and made manifest in Matrimony, or Holy Orders. God is relentless in calling us back to Himself, even when we stray away from Him.
All three of this Sunday’s readings present an urgent call. Jonah tells the people of Ninevah that their sins have resulted in their suffering God’s wrath. They would listen and repent. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that time is running out. They need to embrace the Gospel before they have no more time. Jesus begins his preaching by proclaiming, “The time of fulfillment is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” He then calls his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, James and John. There is an urgency in God’s call that has a profound effect not just upon the person called, but upon others. How are you planning to respond to God’s call today…?