Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Jonah 3:1-5,10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20


January 25-26, 2003 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

From the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord through last week and today, our readings have focused on the start of Jesus’ public ministry. But these readings are not just a chronicle of what happened 2000 years ago; they are a challenge to us to examine our own calling. It is easy to think of God’s call as something that happens at one point in time, like at our baptism or a dramatic conversion event. But the truth is that God is always calling us and we are constantly responding one way or the other.

Today’s first reading from the book of Jonah and the Gospel reading present us with a broad spectrum of how God calls us, and how we respond to that call. Why is that important? Well here we are at the end of a week that included a call for Christian Unity, the 30th anniversary of the legalization of abortion, the celebration of Martin Luther King and all he fought for, and the ever increasing sound of saber rattling for war against Iraq. Surely God is calling every one of us to take an active role in bringing about the kingdom of God.

Jonah was as prophet who lived some 700 years before Jesus was born. God spoke to him and told him to go to the great city of Nineveh and tell them that they had 40 days to repent or God would destroy them. Now Nineveh was a city that had periodically swooped down to destroy the Israelites, killing them and tearing down their cities. Jonah can think of nothing better than God destroying Nineveh. So instead of heading east to proclaim God’s message, he signs up for a Mediterranean cruise headed for Spain.

But God is not to be denied. He starts rocking the boat with a tremendous storm. Soon the superstitious sailors pin the danger on Jonah when he admits he is running away from his God. After Jonah begs them to throw him over board to save the ship, they finally pray to God for forgiveness and toss him over. The storm quiets and they start offering sacrifice to Jonah’s God.

Meanwhile God sends the fish to swallow Jonah and bring him back to shore where God again tells him to go to Nineveh. Jonah bows to the inevitable and heads off, shaking his head and over his shoulder, complaining to God, “They will either laugh at me or they will kill me!” Now Nineveh was a big city, which took 3 days to walk through it. Before Jonah is finished his first day of preaching, the people of Nineveh believe him and start mending their ways. When the news reaches the king, he believes too (must have been election year). He commands that everyone, all the way down to the cats and dogs and cows and pigs had to put on sackcloth and ashes, and had to pray that God might spare them. And God does.

This really makes Jonah mad. He goes out into the desert and sits down in the hot sun and begs God to kill him. “What good is it to be your chosen people if you are going to save anyone who repents and prays to you?” God makes a gourd plant grow up next to Jonah so the shade protects him from the heat. The next morning, God sends a worm to destroy the gourd plant. Jonah starts to complain again. When God asks him if he is angry about the plant, Jonah responds that he is angry enough to die. God then says, “If you are concerned about the loss of this plant, even though you had nothing to do with its growing, shouldn’t I be concerned about the loss of Nineveh with its 120,000 people, not to mention all the animals?”

The story of Jonah is a concise summary of how God works his plan. He often calls us to go in a direction we would rather not go. Even in the midst of our flight from his plan, he can use us to reveal his kingdom, just as he used Jonah to reveal his power to the sailors. He can work tremendous miracles of conversion through us, even if we are convinced of our own lack of power. And God’s plan is always a plan of mercy and conversion, not threats and punishments.

Contrasted with Jonah, today’s Gospel has the first disciples leaving everything they had to follow this Jesus of Nazareth, just to see what made him so different from anyone they had ever met. The kingdom of God is at hand, not out there somewhere, but precisely in the person of Jesus, and since his death and ascension into heaven, it is in the body of Christ. Jesus announces this kingdom by challenging all to repent, which means to turn around, to re-orient ourselves to God, rather than to the fleeting riches of our culture. Our Christian faith teaches us that God calls us, not just to believe in a dogma, or simply surrender ourselves to some structure, but instead to enter into a loving relationship with this person Jesus.

Would that we all had the courage (or the stupidity) of Andrew, Peter, James and John, to throw ourselves without hesitation into God’s plan for us. But for the rest of us, we can take heart from Jonah’s story that God can use us, no matter how unwilling or unqualified we may think we are.

Our call is to repent, to turn around, to “come and see” where this Jesus abides, and in getting to know Jesus, to start to know God as a God of love and compassion and forgiveness. As we start to understand how much we are loved, our response is to share that love with those around us, even if they are not people we would choose to love. The kingdom of God is at hand, this kingdom of love and peace and forgiveness and justice. In fact, this kingdom is in our hands; for God’s call to us is to make that kingdom real by how we live and love, in this week of Christian Unity, the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the birthday of Martin Luther King, and the shadow of impending war with Iraq.

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