Answering the call
January 20, 2012
By Terrance Callan
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.
All of us are called to follow Jesus. But we do not all answer the call in the same way. And each individual’s response will probably change in the course of his or her life. This is partly because the implications of following Jesus become clearer over time.
The reading from the Gospel according to Mark tells how Jesus called two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John, to be His followers. Both sets of brothers were fishermen. As Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew fishing and said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They did so immediately. Soon afterwards Jesus called James and John in the same way.
According to this story, four men walked off their jobs and followed Jesus the moment Jesus invited them to come after Him. There was no preparation, no time for consideration; the four changed their lives completely in a few seconds. The story invites us to consider what kind of person Jesus must be to have such an impact. And it invites us to examine our response to Jesus: have we allowed Him to have this kind of impact on us?
Lest we think that God’s call always unfolds in this way, the Book of Jonah tells a story of a different kind. At first glance, God’s call of Jonah in today’s reading seems to be similar to Jesus’ call of the four disciples; God tells Jonah to deliver a message to Nineveh, and Jonah delivers it. However, the two chapters of the book of Jonah that precede this excerpt tell how Jonah tried to avoid this mission. He tried to get as far away from Nineveh as he could. It was not until he had been thrown overboard during a storm at sea, and been swallowed by a fish, that he accepted God’s call. But he, too, though reluctantly, accomplished God’s purposes.
Though he did not know it, Jonah’s mission was to call the people of Nineveh to repentance. In God’s name Jonah threatened Nineveh with destruction in 40 days. But the people of Nineveh repented, and God did not destroy the city. Jesus also called people to repentance, and entrusted this mission to His followers Jesus’ message is called good news, emphasizing its positive dimension, while Jonah’s message is more negative. But essentially the two messages are the same, i.e., that God will intervene in human history to put human affairs in order. This is good news for the friends of God, but bad news for God’s enemies. Repentance makes us friends of God.
The reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians tells followers of Jesus how we should live while we wait for the coming of the kingdom of God. Paul says that because “the time is running out” and “the world in its present form is passing away,” we should live “as if not,” that is, we should do things as if we were not doing them. What Paul means by this is that we should have a certain detachment from the affairs of this world. We should not give up weeping, rejoicing, buying etc., but we should remember that it is part of a world that is passing away. Being faithful to God’s call is finally far more important. This is still good advice even though the kingdom of God has not fully arrived as soon as Paul apparently thought it would.
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.