3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - The Grace of Discipleship
There is a grace present in all of Scripture, a grace that we too often narrowly associate only with scriptural figures. The God of today’s Jonah story is the same God we see Jesus reveal to us in the Gospel. Both readings today are tales of mercy, freely given, unlimited and unearned. God, it seems, is free to bestow mercy on whomever God chooses. Yet that same grace is eternally present and given, just as freely, to each of us.
We call this liturgical year, "the year of Mark," because, for the most part, his is the gospel we will be hearing these Sundays. And Mark begins his Gospel with the first preaching of Jesus: "This is the time of fulfillment; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news." The time is ripe; it is a gifted and graced opportunity; what people have waited a long time for, is coming to fruition - God is acting decisively on our behalf.
Like Jonah and the prophets, Jesus preached repentance, "metanoia." He invited people to have a change of heart and return to God. Jesus is not only calling for a change in people's attitudes and actions, but inviting them to believe that God's presence is actually at hand in all that he says and does. What Jesus is doing and saying, is what God is doing and saying. All that follows these first words of Jesus in Mark's gospel will only be an elaboration of this concise proclamation about the presence of the reign of God in Jesus' presence.
Repentance means acknowledging one's sins and seeking forgiveness. Jesus links repentance with believing the good news, "Repent and believe the gospel." What good is repenting if we do not believe we will find forgiveness? The good news that Jesus proclaims is that we do find forgiveness. Those who heard Jesus preaching find forgiveness and are invited to turn their lives toward him and change whatever keeps them from accepting and following him.
Jesus' call to metanoia sets the stage for what comes next, the call of the first disciples. Their response to his invitation is a concrete illustration of the radical change required. Metanoia means that a person going in one direction makes an about face and goes in the opposite. A person responding to the call of Jesus must reorient his/her life; take on a new way of being; rededicate energies and see and judge things from a new perspective.
And what a huge turnaround the first disciples made. There is something about Simon, Andrew, James and John's response that touches a deep place in us. Like them we want more in our lives: more of God; more fidelity and prompt response to the call God is always ushering in our direction; more spontaneity when a chance to serve shows itself; more joy about having less to weigh us down and inhibit our ability to get up and follow Christ; more whole-heartedness in our ministries; more satisfaction in God's service; more wisdom to know how to respond to life's current challenges; more clarity to see our jobs as ways of following Christ and more courage to face sickness and its limits.
For most of us, the call to follow Jesus has not nearly been as dramatic. There was no special moment, as in today's Gospel, when He approached us and asked us to be His disciples. Most of us were baptized, and raised as Catholics in our younger days. We went through the motions of prayer and church and sacraments. We learned the basics of Christian doctrine. And maybe after some years of questioning and wandering, or maybe just laziness and indifference, we reached a point in our adult life when we began to take our Catholic faith seriously.
It can be all too easy to shirk off the change and new response Jesus may be calling us to make. Yet, God's call is a challenge to us to respond to service. Each of us has been called and is being called by name right now. Our baptism reminds of that. We will pray at this Eucharist for open ears to hear again Jesus' call, "Come follow me...." We'll ask to be shown concretely how we can respond now to that call - on the job, in our homes and out in the world.
It will not be easy. It wasn't easy for the first disciples who left the busy-ness of their daily lives to follow and to proclaim. But that must not deter us from our dreams and our efforts at renewal and conversion: to do anything less would be pure selfishness, a tragic sign that we care only for ourselves and not about those future generations who, with us, are church.
The Lord sends us an urgent invitation to participate in important work. And He also gives us the grace complete that work once accepted.
The Kingdom is at hand - and this is "good news."