The 3rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Church in her wisdom teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Do not be Reluctant to Answer the Call
The Lord calls all of us to salvation, and within that call is also the invitation to serve the Lord in a vocation that is unique to each of us and to the gifts God the Holy Spirit has given us.  Some are called to Holy Orders and a life of chastity, and some are called to marriage and children.  And within our first vocations, some are called to be teachers of the Word, others to a ministry of prayer, others to service within their faith communities, and others to serve the poor and broken hearted.  Whatever the call, we must not be reluctant to accept.  We must trust God; for if He has called us, He will equip us to fulfill our life's mission.

The First Reading and the Gospel present individual responses to God's call to service.  In the First Reading, the prophet Jonah, who was reluctant to accept the mission to call the fierce Assyrian Gentiles of Nineveh to repentance (Jon 1:1-3), finds success when he answers God's call.  The people of Nineveh repent and are saved from the destruction of divine judgment.  In the Gospel Reading, the Galilean fishermen hear Jesus' call and give up everything to follow the Messiah without knowing where following Jesus will lead them.  St. Paul warns us in the Second Reading that time is short and one must not hesitate because "the world in its present form is passing away."  We do not know when the Lord will return in judgment, and to hesitate to accept your calling to share the Gospel of salvation may mean another lost soul instead of the re-birth in Christian baptism of another child of God.  The Psalm's plea is "Teach me your ways, O Lord", and we should add to that plea: "so that I might teach others the good news of Your salvation!"

The First Reading Jonah 3:1-5, 10 ~ The repentance of Nineveh and God's pardon
1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying, 2 "Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you."  3 So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD's bidding.  Now Nineveh was an enormously large city; it took three day's to go through it.  4 Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day's walk announcing, "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed," 5 when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
10 When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.

At first, Jonah resisted God's command to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to Israel's great enemy, the Gentile people of the Assyrian capital, before God's judgment of destruction was to be visited upon them.  But after his experience being swallowed by the great fish and realizing that he cannot hide from God, Jonah repented and submitted to his mission.  In verses 1-2, God repeats His command for Jonah to go to the capital city of the Assyrians, the regional superpower at that time.  Jonah goes and preaches his message to repent or face God's divine judgment in forty days.  The people of Nineveh, from peasant to king, repented their sins and demonstrated the sincerity of their repentance through their actions by fasting and wearing sackcloth (a sign of repentance or grief).  God, in His mercy, accepted their repentance and withdrew His judgment.

That the inspired writer records "it took three days to cross" the city (verse 3) is probably hyperbole used to expresses the great size of the city, but the number three in Scripture is often used symbolically to introduce an act of God, especially in His divine plan for mankind's salvation.  The exemplary conversion of the Ninevites is recalled by Jesus in the Gospels (Mt 12:41, Lk 11:32) and is contrasted with the incredulity of the Jews.  The description of the repentance of the Gentile Ninevites foreshadows the repentance of the Gentile nations and their acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior.  The judgment for sin is death, but God in His mercy sent His Son as the unblemished Lamb of sacrifice for the sins of the world (Jn 1:29).  Jesus' sacrifice is the means of receiving God's mercy and forgiveness of our sins when we repent and turn to Jesus Christ.  Using the people of Nineveh as an example, Jesus said: "On Judgment Day the men of Nineveh will appear against this generation and be its condemnation, because when Jonah preached they repented; and, look, there is something greater than Jonah here" (Lk 11:32).

Responsorial Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 ~ God's Ways
The response is: "Teach me your ways, O Lord."
4 Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, 5 guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.
Response:
6 Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your love are from old.  7 In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.
Response:
8 Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way.  9 He guides the humble to justice, he teaches the humble his way.
Response:

Psalm 25 is a lament attributed to David in which each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The psalm mixes heartfelt pleas with expressions of confidence in God who in His mercy forgives and guides the humble and contrite.

In verses 4-7 the psalmist asks God to instruct him in His ways because he understands that salvation comes from God.  In verses 6-7, he asks God to remember and to forgive him out of His compassion (mercy), love and goodness that God has given to His people from the beginning of Israel's covenant relationship with the Almighty.  In verses 8-9 the psalmist places both sinners and the humble within the same petition, since it is the humble person who is the one who acknowledges his sin. 

The petition of the psalmist finds its fulfillment in the Incarnation and sacred mission of Jesus Christ who leads the faithful on the path to salvation (Jn 10:1-18).  He shows mercy while pardoning sins and at the same time reveals the truth of their sins to others and judges their works (Mt 25:31-46). These are the ways of God that are manifested in God the Son—the way of mercy and the way of judgment (see St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 24, 10).

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 ~ Time is Short
29 I tell you brothers and sisters, the time is running out.  From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, 30 those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, 31 those using the world as not using it fully.  For the world in its present form is passing away.

St. Paul and the Apostles Sts. Peter and John remind us in their letters that life is short (cf. Rom 13:11-14; 2 Pt 3:8; 1 Jn 2:15-17).  They do this in order to encourage us to make the best use of our time to serve Jesus Christ and others for His sake.  It is for this reason that a Christian should be detached from material things and never become a servant of the world (cf. 1 Cor 7:23; Lumen gentium, 42).  Instead, the Christian must always have the goal of eternal life as his focus.  St. Teresa of Avila wrote it will help us: "... if we keep a very constant care of the vanity of all things, and the rapidity with which they pass away, so that we may withdraw our affections from everything and fix them on what will last forever.  This may seem to be a poor kind of help but it will have the effect of greatly fortifying the soul" (Way of Perfection, chapter 10). 

St. Paul warned in verse 31: "the world in its present form is passing away."  We do not know when Christ will return to judge the world; therefore, we must not waste any time in selfish, worldly pursuits but must take up the mission Jesus gave every Christian to teach Christ's love, to call for the repentance of sins, and share Jesus' Gospel of salvation to before it is too late (Mt 28:19-20; Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8).

The Gospel of Mark 1:14-20 ~ The Call of the Galilean Fishermen
14 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: 15 "This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel."  16 As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.  17 Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."  18 Then they [immediately = euthus] left their nets and followed him.  19 He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.  They too were in a boat mending their nets. 20 Then [immediately = euthus] he called them.  So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

John the Baptist was arrested by the tetrarch Herod Antipas.  He was the son of Herod the Great and ruler of the Galilee and also Perea on the east side of the Jordan River where John was baptizing.  Antipas had an affair with his niece who was also his brother's wife and Herod the Great's granddaughter.  He convinced her to divorce her husband and marry him, even though such a union was forbidden by the Law of Moses.  In his role as an ordained priest of the Sinai Covenant, John the Baptist condemned Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias for the sin of adultery.  Herod Antipas arrested John and imprisoned him in the Herodian fortress in Perea called Macherus (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2; also see Mt 4:12-17; 14:3-12).

John's arrest was the signal that John's ministry had come to an end and Jesus's ministry must begin.  Jesus is now thirty years old (Lk 3:23).  It is the same age that His ancestor David became King of Israel (2 Sam 5:4).  The Galilee was the perfect location for Jesus' ministry.  The region was a crossroads for the great Via Maris, the ancient trade route that came out of Egypt, extended along the Mediterranean coast, passed through the Galilee, and continued into Syria, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia.  Jesus didn't have to go to the various neighboring Gentile nations where Jews lived because they came to Him in the three yearly pilgrimages to the Jerusalem Temple commanded in the Law of Moses (Ex 23:14-17; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:3).

Mark 1:16-20 ~ Jesus calls His first group of Galilean disciples
16 As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.  17 Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."  18 Then they [immediately = euthus] left their nets and followed him.  19 He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.  They too were in a boat mending their nets. 20 Then [immediately = euthus] he called them.  So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

The brothers Simon and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee who owned their own boats.  They were not poor but were probably well-to-do since they had hired men who worked for them (verse 20), and after spending three years following Jesus, they still had a fishing business to return to (see Jn 21:3).  Fishermen who owned their own boats on the Sea of Galilee were usually under contract to supply fish to the Roman government, and any fish they caught beyond their contracted amount they could sell on their own.

This was not the first time Simon and Andrew and the Zebedee brothers had seen Jesus or been exposed to His message (see Jn 1:29-42).  They had all met him at the site of St. John's ritual baptisms of repentance and purification on the east side of the Jordan River.  At that time, the Baptist identified Jesus as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" and the "Son of God" who will baptize men with "water and the Holy Spirit" (Jn 1:29, 33-34; Mk 1:8).  Andrew and another disciple (probably John Zebedee) spent an entire day talking with Jesus (Jn 1:35-39).  Later, Andrew brought his brother Simon to meet "the Messiah" and Jesus gave Simon the name/title Kepha in Aramaic, transliterated into the Greek text as Cephas (Jn 1:41-42); it is a name which means "Rock" and is translated into English as Peter from the Greek "Petros" (masculine form of the Greek word for rock that is petra).  It is a title/name for Simon that Jesus will repeat when Simon is the first of the Apostles to professes that Jesus' divinity as both the Messiah and the Son of God (Mt 16:16-18).  That the fishermen had already been introduced to Jesus explains their decision to immediately follow Him in verse 20.

The message of this passage for the reader is that knowing Jesus' true identity is not enough; one must be ready to give up everything to follow Jesus.  St. Mark uses the Greek word euthus twice in this passage.  This adverb is the key word in Mark's Gospel and means "now" or "immediately."  Mark uses the adverb 47 times in his 675 verses; it is used more in Mark than in the rest of the New Testament verses combined.  The word is often omitted in many parts of the modern English translations, but the use of this word by St. Mark is deliberate.  It points to the urgency of what God is doing in and through Jesus and the importance of our response to God's call to discipleship and service before it is too late.  The Galilean fishermen did not hesitate—they left everything and immediately followed Jesus.  These were their first steps toward eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Their response to the call of Jesus Christ is an example of how we should all trust God and follow our special calling because the reward merited for us by Jesus is eternal!

Catechism References:
1 Corinthians 7:31 (CCC 1619)
Mark 1:16-20 (CCC 787)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015