Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
17 Jan 2021
Kris Veldheer, MDiv

Reading 1: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

Today’s Scripture readings invite us to think about what it takes to say yes.  From God calling Jonah a second time, to Mark’s account of Jesus calling the first disciples, what does it take to get someone to say yes?

In the Old Testament reading from Jonah 3, we read the account of what happens after Jonah’s time in the belly of the fish.  God comes to Jonah a second time with the same request, namely, to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s message.  The passage is sparse in further details, only that by verse 4, Jonah is walking through Nineveh proclaiming the message that in forty days the city would be overthrown.  Then, by the next verse, the people of Nineveh believe Jonah and begin to repent.  By the final verse of the reading, we see God’s reaction of a changed mind, and no catastrophe befalls the city of Nineveh.

From the story of Jonah, we might conclude that all it takes is some time in the belly of a fish to get someone to say yes.  But what turned the hearts of the people of Nineveh to get them to put on sackcloth?  Clearly, God was at work through Jonah’s message to change people’s minds and get them to say yes.

The Gospel story from Mark is similarly sparse on details.  Mark’s Gospel is known for being concise and matter-of-fact, but the lack of details is frustrating.  After the arrest of John in verse 14, Jesus says the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near in verse 15.  Jesus also says to repent and believe.  Although the messages are different, both God (through Jonah) and Jesus want the same results.  Both want people to atone and believe.

Mark’s account takes another sparse twist in the next portion of the Gospel, when Jesus calls the first disciples.  Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John with the phrase, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  All the men left what they were doing and immediately followed Jesus.  Their action was an active yes in Mark’s telling of the story.

Does the lack of details in both the Old Testament and Gospel lessons frustrate you or invite your imagination to fill in the gaps?  Maybe the people of Nineveh found Jonah to be a compelling preacher, even if it took Jonah two tries to say yes to God.  For the four fishermen, were the nets coming up empty that day?  Was there something in Jesus’ invitation to fish for people that was more appealing than casting their nets for fish?  Maybe they said yes to just try something new.

How do you say yes to someone?  Through both stories, the Bible gives us clues on how Jonah and Jesus gave the invitation.  We may wish for more details from Jesus than just an invitation, as with the first disciples. What was it about them that made them so willing to leave everything they knew for a risky future?  Maybe the key lies in what comes next after our passages for today have ended, and we read in the rest of Mark’s Gospel that the first disciples continued to say yes even when the going got rough.  Will we be able to answer yes if God calls us?  Will we continue to say yes like the disciples, no matter the difficulty?

Kris Veldheer, MDiv
Director, Paul Bechtold Library