Jan. 20, 2018

Third Sunday

GOD SPEAKS AND WE LISTEN

Readings: 1st- Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 2nd- 1 Cor.7:29-31; Gospel- Mk. 1:14-20

Speaking and listening is a strong theme captured nicely in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans when he said, “How then are they to call on him if they have not come to believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him? And how will they hear of him unless there is a preacher for them? And how will there be preachers if they are not sent? As scripture says, ‘How beautiful are the feet of the messenger of the good news” (Rom. 10:14-15). That is the picture we see in the readings of today. Jonah’s impact on preaching to the people of Nineveh is the result of the connection between speaking and listening, between preaching and repentance. Of course, that reading omits some aspects of Jonah’s story because Jonah was at first a reluctant prophet. He was hesitant to respond to God’s invitation to go to Nineveh. Yet, he went to Nineveh in response to God’s voice. Jonah’s mission was to announce the gospel of repentance.

The Bible narrates that Nineveh was a large city notorious for its sinful attitude. It was beyond compare in sin, but positively Nineveh became beyond compare in their quick response to the call to repentance. God had initially planned to destroy Nineveh for its iniquity. It happened that the people of Nineveh were touched by Jonah’s invitation to repentance; “…when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5-6). Nineveh took God’s forty days very seriously. They acted swiftly and made Jonah’s forty days to become one day, one joyful day for the Lord who created them not for destruction but for salvation. They repented, and God withdrew his anger. God demonstrated the vastness of his mercy and compassion.

The preaching of Jonah, the response from the people of Nineveh and the ultimate reaction from God are all important here. Jonah was the instrument chosen by God to speak to the people. Jonah was sent on that mission to prophesy to the people. Jonah let himself be used for a positive mission. The result is that a big city which would have been destroyed was eventually saved. Could it have been that the people of Nineveh had no one to speak to them prior to Jonah’s preaching? That is possible, and it happens in real life. Sometimes, we presume that people should know what they ought to do. We shy away from speaking up. We fail to understand that God uses us as tools to save such those who are going astray.

Recently, I was working with a young man who is intending to get married in the church. The young lady (the bride) is very active in the church with strong catholic background. But the young man is unbaptized. As we progressed in their marriage preparation, it became clear that the young man simply had no one to talk to him about the faith, about God in general. He loves God but doesn’t know exactly who God is, or how to worship him. He is such a zealous young man willing to love and serve God, but the parents didn’t say anything about God to him for the twenty-three years he’s been growing up. You don’t really have to blame such people. Thank God for letting him meet the kind of wife, the bold lady that he’s getting married to. She speaks the faith to him like a little child. She explains every detail of what the Catholic faith is all about, and he’s getting interested. We can be the Jonah that God uses to bring the good news to others. Don’t shy away.

Jesus continues the proclamation of the gospel of repentance in the gospel, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1:15). Jesus wants believers to recognize the imminence of the time. The kingdom of God demands us to work in the now, and not procrastinate. Saint Paul says in the second reading, that the world in its present form is passing away, so everyone should live in view of God’s love and mercy. Christ says, “repent and believe”. Then he calls the first disciples who leave everything and follow Jesus. The first disciples teach us that the word of God demands immediate response. Peter, Andrew, James and John leave everything and follow Jesus. Like the people of Nineveh, they respond to the call to serve God. 

Let us see the invitation today in the light of the call to discipleship. God wants of us action as his children and followers. He wants us to follow him. Following God demands commitment. It demands response. It demands repentance from whatever evils that we indulge in. It demands faith, believing in the power of God to save. In the first place, good voices are the voices of God. He speaks through human beings. He uses people to reach out to us. He invites us constantly to do good. God doesn’t want us to be stuck in a particular evil or sinful habit. He continues to give us more and more opportunities to repent and be saved. To repent, we must have faith. We must believe in God’s mercy and love. Like the people of Nineveh, we need faith in order to listen. God is never done with his creatures. His will is that “everyone should be saved and come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

God wants just two things from us: to speak and to listen. Each of these actions demands faith. As parents, we are God’s voice to our children. We have to speak the faith to them. It is an ongoing process, not just at the time of first Eucharist, or Confirmation, or Baptism, or even Marriage. It is an ongoing responsibility. At other times, God needs us to listen to the voices that speak to us about the need to do good, the need to avoid evil. He needs us to believe in him. He needs us to be repent from that evil habit. Disaster only comes from as a result of obstinacy, insistence on sin. Rather, the kingdom of God is a kingdom of life. It is here now; it is at hand. To follow God’s kingdom is to believe, to listen, to repent, and to live.