January 21, 2024 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Welcome Father Bernward Today’s Readings: Jon 3:1-5, 10 | 1 Cor 7:29-31 | Mk 1:14-20

Running Away

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had a direct summons specifically for you from God?

Instead of going about in a fog and trying your best to remember how to live, maybe how to pray once in a while, and perhaps to make an effort and to get to Mass at least on Sunday, wouldn’t it be great to have a command that would focus everything in our life, draw us on like a far-shining star?

In both the First Reading and the Gospel, people are given such a direct invitation to do God’s will …

But …

in the First Reading Jonah was quite repelled by the call God gave him. And in the Gospel the disciples surely had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they dropped everything and followed Jesus. Would they have been so trusting if they had known about the crucifixion?

Let’s start Jonah from the beginning (Jonah, Chapter 1), which is several chapters earlier than Sunday’s reading. God says, “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah, quite repelled, does exactly the opposite, running away like a guilty house cat. He races to Joppa and boards a ship to Tarshish, trying get as far from God’s will as possible.

The story is well known: God sends a terrible storm. Jonah admits to the crew that he is the cause of their trouble because he is fleeing the command of God.

Pick me up and hurl me into the sea and then the sea will calm down for you. For I know that this great storm has come upon you because of me. (Jonah 1:12)

With great reluctance, they toss him overboard and the sea is quieted. Jonah is swallowed by a “large fish,” usually referred to in tradition as a whale.

Residence in the whale’s interior gives Jonah ample time to think. He prays psalms about what he has done (Jonah 2:3). God does save him and tells him a second time to go to the great and sinful city of Nineveh and announce the Lord’s message. Jonah submits at last and, in today’s First Reading, the whole city is converted.

Why in the world didn’t Jonah just follow God’s command instead of running to the other side of the world? One speculation is that Jonah did not want Nineveh, the pagan city, to convert and be saved—because this city was an enemy of the Hebrews. But you and I can make our own speculations, since we ourselves know what it is like to run from what God asks.

As for the apostles (Gospel), they did not run away. Almost impulsively they followed Jesus. Possibly they wanted political action. With Jesus’ gentle guidance they found out gradually that following the Messiah really meant something quite different. In contrast with Jonah, the apostles imagined the best. But they followed Jesus into the passion and crucifixion!

Luckily the resurrection followed. Lucky for us all, since suffering seems to be inevitable in human life.

And you?

Are you running away or running toward? Either way you will have suffering. Either way God will keep after you, pulling you out from the entrails of a fish, pushing you, pulling you, over and over, to learn in your flesh what love is really about.

And you?

Source of reflection: © 2021, John B. Foley SJ, https://liturgy.slu.edu/3OrdB012124/reflections_foley.html Source of image: Domenico Ghirlandaio, “The Calling of Peter and Andrew”, 1481-82, fresco at the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City