Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
January 21, 2018
First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
Have you ever gone to a place where you didn’t really want to go? Twenty years ago I received my first assignment as a Divine Word Missionary, and the place that I was assigned was only a short drive across the state line of Illinois. Even though it was a drive that would normally take three and a half hours, the journey on that day took me five hours. Heavy traffic congestion on the Kennedy Expressway was not at fault. Rather, I intentionally took my time because I wasn’t very enthusiastic at all about getting to my mission assignment.
The prophet Jonah wasn’t excited about going to his mission assignment either. Understandably, no Israelite during his time would want to go to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, which was Israel’s arch enemy. During Jonah’s time, the Assyrians had already captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel and displaced many people, and some Israelites were surely exiled to Nineveh. The inhabitants of the Southern Kingdom or Judah, especially those living in Jerusalem, were on high alert of imminent invasion by the forces of the Assyrian army. Consequently, when God sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh to offer the people there a chance to repent in order to avoid divine judgment and punishment, Jonah wasn’t very pleased with the assigned task. While the first reading from the book of Jonah does not give us this historical context and does not tell us that Jonah tried every way possible to avoid going to Nineveh, we all know from our childhood Bible study that Jonah got there grudgingly with the help of a big fish. While situated in the eight century BCE, but written probably in the post-exilic period (400-200 BCE), the author used the stuff of legend or fiction to teach the people of his time that God’s salvation is indiscriminate and universal, and therefore God would have no problem sending Israel’s prophet to a foreign land to offer them repentance and salvation. This is the essential message that is underscored in this Sunday’s first reading. God’s salvation was offered to the unexpected people of Nineveh, and they responded favorably by changing their lives around.
Unlike Jonah, Jesus was very excited about his mission. The Gospel reading from Mark tells us that despite the danger of being arrested, like John the Baptist who has just been imprisoned, Jesus fearlessly began his public ministry proclaiming the Good News of the arrival of a new kingdom, the Reign of God, and offering repentance to all. For Jesus, God’s Reign is gracious and indiscriminate, extending to everyone and in any place. Interestingly, one would expect that Jesus would go to Jerusalem–the Holy City–to deliver his inaugural address. But no, Jesus, without fanfare, came to Galilee, a region known for being unsophisticated and Gentile. More surprisingly, Jesus began to call simple fishermen to be his disciples to go and proclaim the love and mercy of God to all people, of every race, nationality, gender, creed and background. Amazingly these Galileans responded without hesitation and became “fishers-of-people.”
The fact is that there is something of Jonah in each of us! There are places where we do not want to go or people with whom we do not want to associate. Consequently, we are the first to be called to change, metanoia! Likewise, Paul in the second reading advised the Corinthians that “time” (kairos) is “running out” and that they must live “as if” or “as though” (hōs mē) they are in perfect union with Christ. Notice that the Greek phrase (hōs mē) is repeated five times in this very short second reading. Living in this kairos does not mean that one should stop carrying out the ordinary affairs of everyday life, for example, marriage commitment or putting food on the table, but it means that everything one does here and now is reflective of one’s deep commitment to Christ. I suppose if we live “as though” we are already in complete union with Christ, as Paul had advised his readers to do, then we too might be able to respond to Jesus’s invitation to discipleship with greater urgency and without any hesitation to go to even undesirable places and people.
Rev. vănThanh Nguyễn, SVD
Professor of New Testament Studies
Holder of the Francis X. Ford, MM, Chair of Catholic Missiology