Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading for this weekend is from the Book of Jonah, an Old Testament writing seldom presented in the liturgy. While Jonah is the central figure in this book, he was not the author. The author is unknown. Scholars believe that the Book of Jonah was written sometime after the Babylonian exile of the Jews.
The reading speaks of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, located roughly in the region of modern Syria. He went there at God’s command, to preach conversion.
Preaching conversion in Nineveh was a tall order. The Jews who first heard this reading knew exactly how difficult the assignment was. No city on earth had the image of evil and vice that surrounded Nineveh.
Nineveh, after all, was the capital of Assyria. Over the centuries, many neighboring powers invaded and overwhelmed the Holy Land. None of these invaders matched the Assyrians for bloodthirstiness and brutality. To convert the people of Nineveh would have been regarded as almost impossible.
For its second reading this weekend, the Church offers us a passage from the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Paul was challenged in leading the Corinthian Christians to a fully devout Christian life. The city was in reality what Nineveh was symbolically to the ancient Jews. Corinth was known around the Roman imperial world as a center of vice and licentiousness. This distinction said very much, since vice and lewdity prevailed throughout the empire.
The apostle called upon the Christians of Corinth to remember that time passes quickly, and that life is short. They had before them two options. The first was life in Jesus, a life that is everlasting; but it requires fidelity to the Gospel and the Gospel’s values. The other option was eternal death, awaiting those who spurn the Gospel. St. Paul obviously urges the Corinthians to be holy.
The Gospel of Mark provides the last reading. First is a brief mention that John the Baptist “has been handed over,” a phrase later to describe the arrest of Jesus on Good Friday. The reading continues to say that Jesus was preaching that the “kingdom of God is near.”
Then the Lord calls Simon and Andrew, brothers and fishermen, as Apostles, to be followed by the call of James and John.
For the early Christians, the Twelve especially were important. From the apostles came knowledge of Jesus. It was vital to assure, and present, their credentials. Thus, this Gospel carefully identifies these Apostles.
The Lord’s call was sudden. They were unprepared, yet Jesus and the offer of salvation caused them to drop everything and follow Jesus.
The call of the Apostles is instructive. They were part of the Lord’s plan of salvation. They continued the Lord’s work.
The Church called us liturgically to celebrate the birth of Christ. Two weeks later it celebrated the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. Later, it offered us the feast of the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River.
All these celebrations taught critical lessons about Jesus. He is human, the son of Mary. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior, assuming our sins even though Jesus was without sin.
Now, the Church tells us that Jesus calls us to salvation, eternal life. He called the Apostles specifically to continue the work of salvation. He taught them, commissioned them. The Apostles, through the Church founded upon them, still teach us and invite us to follow Christ.
These four Apostles’ instant response is a lesson. Nothing is more important in life than being with Christ, than answering the Lord’s call.
Directly and simply, Paul told the Corinthians that they could accept salvation — or not. We have the same choice.
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