Sunday Homily for January 25, 2009
Third Sunday in Ordinary time (3B)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
In the First Reading and the Gospel, two people are given a direct invitation to do God’s will.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for you and for me if we had such a direct summons? Instead of going about in a fog and trying our best to remember how to live, maybe how to pray once and a while and to get to Mass at least on Sunday, wouldn’t it be great to be caught up into a command that focused everything in our lives, drew us on like a far-shining star?
Maybe. 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 quick if they had known about the crucifixion?
God says to Jonah, "Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me" (First Reading). Jonah, like a house cat, does exactly the opposite of what he is asked. He drops everything and runs in the opposite direction. He hastens to Joppa, finds a ship to Tarshish and gets on board, trying get as far from the task as possible.
The story is well known: a terrible storm arises. Fleeing the command of God, Jonah tells them to throw him overboard in order to save themselves—he is the cause of their trouble. So they do. They toss him overboard and the sea is quieted. But 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 for retrospection. God does save him and tells him a second time to go to the great and sinful city of Nineveh to announce the Lord’s message. Jonah submits at last and the whole city is converted.
Why in the world didn’t Jonah just follow God’s first command instead of running the other way? Because he already had his own prejudice in place. Jonah did not want Nineveh, the pagan city, to convert and be saved because this city was an enemy of the Hebrews. Better for it to perish in flames and ashes than to repent in ashes and sackcloth.
As for the apostles, they decided to follow Jesus for their own understandable but perhaps skewed reasons (Gospel). Issues of livelihood and the excessive tax system surely helped prompt them to follow this charismatic man whose reputation had preceded him. Were they were leaving everything in order to get into political action?
In any case, these are direct invitations from God. Are we kidding ourselves that life and following our call will be placid, satisfying and without ambiguity?
We all already have prejudices in place about what we want and how things ought to go. In fact, any of us who pray actually might find ourselves asking God to do our will, rather than listening and following what we hear from God.
Let’s grow, just like Jonah and like the apostles did. Let’s listen in quiet, and then, by following, learn what we have heard
Fr. John Foley, S. J.