Third Sunday In Ordinary Time
The Book of Jonah is the source for the first reading. Scholars believe that it 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 call the people to conversion.
The Jews who first heard this reading had a definite mindset about Nineveh and its inhabitants. By the time that this book was written, foreigners already had subjected God’s people time and again to conquests, but of all these conquerors, none was more brutal than the Assyrians. Brutality and viciousness were their hallmarks.
As a result, the Jews regarded Assyrians as utterly evil, not just as threats to the Jewish population. By possibly annihilating the Jews, they were upsetting the worship of the One God of Israel. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the heart of this inhumane empire.
Yet, Jonah succeeded in converting the people of the city. The lesson is clear. Anyone, even someone with the hardest heart, can repent. God wants all people to repent.
This weekend’s second reading is from the First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul had a challenge in leading the Corinthian Christians to a fully devout Christian life. The city was, for its time — the first century A.D. — what Nineveh was imagined to have been. Corinth was depraved, utterly engulfed in paganism and wickedness.
St. Paul calls upon the Christians of Corinth to remember that time passes quickly and that life is short. They have before them two options. The first is life in Jesus, a life that is everlasting, but it requires fidelity to the Gospel and the Gospel’s values. The other option is eternal death, awaiting those who spurn the Gospel. In this comparison, Paul obviously urges the Corinthians to be holy.
The Gospel of Mark provides the last reading. It is the story of the Lord’s calling of Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John to be apostles. The Apostles were simple men. Yet, Jesus called them, and they responded in the affirmative.
All the early Christians found stories of the Twelve especially important. The Apostles were key in learning the Gospel of Jesus. Going far and wide, the apostles were the links with Jesus. Imposters, maybe well-meaning, also came and went among the early Christians. Knowing who was an authentic apostle was imperative in order to know the genuine teaching of Jesus.
The authentic apostles possessed the credentials of having been personally called, taught and sent by Christ. Thus, the Gospels carefully report their names and callings.
The Church called us to celebrate the birth of Christ. Two weeks later, it led us to the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. Then it offered us the feast of the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River.
All these celebrations, among the greatest of the Church’s year of worship, taught critical lessons about Jesus. He is human, the Son of Mary. He is also the Son of God. He is the Savior, assuming our sins even though He was sinless.
Now the Church moves into the process of asking us to respond. To an extent, we all live in Nineveh and in Corinth. Sin surrounds us. God is rejected, but no one is beyond redemption.
Jesus forgives us, heals us and calls each of us to discipleship. We simply must choose to heed the call by being faithful to the Gospel. It is to our advantage to respond affirmatively. Death is the other option.
We might not altogether depart Nineveh or Corinth in this life, but the Lord guides us to the peace of heaven.
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