Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


January 24-25, 2015 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Between Pope Francis on the universal Church level, and Cardinal Sean on the Archdiocesan level, and our faith focus in our collaborative, we are clearly being reminded to live out our baptismal call to evangelize. Today's readings reveal a good deal about God's approach to evangelization. Today's gospel passage from Mark is very similar to last week's from John; they both talk about Jesus choosing his first disciples. Today we hear Mark tell the first disciples that he will make them fishers of people and they drop everything and follow him.

Deacon Michael Bulson (Salt Lake City), in a homily on today's readings asks, "Do you wonder what Jesus and those first four disciples talked about?" They were all fishermen so they most likely told fish stories. And Deacon Bulson, taking his cue from the first reading wonders if Jesus told one of the greatest fish stories of all time: the story of Jonah the prophet. This Sunday is the only time in the three year Lectionary cycle that we hear from the book of Jonah. And if all we heard was this short excerpt we might think that Jonah is the perfect evangelizer. God tells him to go to Ninevah, he goes and barely starts speaking when the whole city is converted. But the whole story gives us a very different picture about what it means to sent by God to spread the Good News.

Jonah was a 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. Here is where the reading from today picks up. 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. So how do you think Jonah feels about his success?

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 pretty good summary of how God works His plan. He often sends us in a direction we would rather not go. Even in the midst of our flight from His plan, God 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 most importantly God’s plan is always a plan of mercy and all to conversion, not threats, punishments, or destruction.

Contrasted with Jonah, today’s Gospel has the first disciples leaving everything they had, to immediately follow this Jesus of Nazareth. Something in the urgency of Jesus' pronouncement that the kingdom of God is at hand spurred the four to follow him without hesitation. This kingdom of God is not out there somewhere, but precisely in the person of Jesus, and since his death and ascension into heaven, it is at hand in the body of Christ, the Church. Jesus announces his presence 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 or to violence as a means to our ends. 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. Dogma and organization are important but only in the context of that personal loving relationship.

So if you want to know what it means to be a good evangelizer, I would heartily recommend that you go home and read the story of Jonah again, and use it to reflect on how we are responding to God’s call to us to spread the Good News. Are we running to the West when God is asking us to go preach the Good News in some Ninevah to the East? Are we secretly wishing that God would just destroy those sinners we see in our world and get it over with? Are we sitting out in the desert, complaining that God could even contemplate sparing those modern day Ninevites let alone call on us to share the joy of the Gospel with them? Or are we deepening our relationship with a God who loves us, and loving our neighbors in response to that love? No matter who our neighbors are? Our baptismal call is a call to make this kingdom of God real on this earth as it is in heaven, to complete the work that Jesus started during his life. It is a call for us, with all our imperfections and lack of courage, to let God work wonderful things through us for the sake of everyone around us. So let us repent and believe in this: this kingdom of God is not just at hand; it is in our hands; for God’s call to us is to make that kingdom real by how we live and love, right here, this week.

homily index