Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings of the day: RB 4:63-78Mass: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Resp. Psalm 25; 1 Co 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
‘For now, or—if not now—sooner or later, all of us are called to go and face some “Nineveh” of our own. There is a claim on us, on our time, on our love,on our courage, that we would rather avoid.’P. Murray, A Journey with Jonah: A Spirituality of Bewilderment (Dublin 2002), p. 16
The Book of Jonah is brief—only 48 verses, yet with enough words to make us laugh now and again. Plus, there may be more to the story than meets the eye. P. Murray writes, ‘I am convinced that the Book of Jonah is the most profoundly Christian of all books in the Hebrew Bible, and the book from which we have most to learn at the beginning of this new millennium’ (p. 10).
Many of you are familiar with the story—Jonah, son of Ammitai, first runs from God and the call he receives to go to Nineveh; he flees, boards a ship, then manages to get himself thrown overboard only to be swallowed by a large fish.
There may be some of Jonah in each of us, as written by H. Melville, in the classic, Moby Dick. Father Mapple, the sailors’ chaplain, preaches: ‘As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Ammitai was in his willful disobedience of the command of God—never mind now what the command was, or how conveyed—which he found a hard command. But all the things that God would have us do—remember that—and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavours to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.’
Jonah is given a second chance by the merciful God and sets off for Nineveh to prophesy destruction to the Gentiles living there. Jonah announces: ‘Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’ The story continues in today’s first reading.When the people of Nineveh believed God;they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
The ever-faithful God responds with mercy and compassion:When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways,God changed his mind about the calamity that he said he would bring upon them;and he did not do it.
How Jonah reacts to God’s response you can read on your own. In any case, there is much food for thought in what’s presented so far. What is it that we have to learn from the Book of Jonah? We are a willful people and even though our ‘yes’ to God’s call is seemingly strong and sure, we waver. ‘That’s not quite what I had in mind, dear Jesus. Could you please not demand so much of my time and energy?’ There have been times in my life when I’ve wanted to get in a car, start driving in some direction, and when the car runs out of gas, I will get out and start walking. Not much good that will do me now—I don’t even own a car! God doesn’t want part of us. He wants all of us. Like God was with Jonah and the Ninevites, HE is patient. He waits. When we are ready, he does nothing but love us. His call to do this or that, though, is not always what we had in mind. It is tough going. United with Jonah in the belly of the whale, we cry: ‘The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains!’ Saying ‘yes’ to God requires that we say ‘no’ to ourselves. Not my will, O Lord, but yours be done. Saying ‘no’ to my whims and appetites is easier said than done. Think of Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They were fishermen, and if they were like the fishermen, and women, I know, they are quite taken with fishing, fish that is. They like it. Yet God had something else in mind for them. THEY ABANDONED THEIR NETS AND FOLLOWED JESUS.THE LEFT THEIR FATHER ZEBEDEE IN THE BOAT ALONGWITH THE HIRED MEN AND FOLLOWED JESUS.Your ways, O Lord, make known to me,teach me your paths.