Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 25:4-9
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 revealed His divine plan for mankind 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 the 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 according to the gifts God the Holy Spirit gives us.  God calls some of us to Holy Orders and a life of chastity, and some are called to marriage and children.  Within our 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 God's invitation to serve Him.  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 was reluctant to accept the mission to call the fierce Assyrian Gentiles of Nineveh to repentance.  However, after struggling against his divine call, Jonah finds success when he submits to God's divine plan.  The people of Nineveh respond to Jonah's warning to repent, and their repentance saves them from the destruction of divine judgment. 

The petition in the Psalm Reading is: "Teach me your ways, O Lord."  The petition of the psalmist finds its fulfillment in the Incarnation and sacred mission of Jesus Christ.  He teaches us the ways of God as He leads the faithful on the path to salvation.  He reveals the truth of the consequences of sin, shows mercy while pardoning sins, and judges our works as righteous or wicked. These are the ways of God that are manifested in God the Son: the way of mercy and the way of judgment.

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 rebirth in Christian baptism of another child of God.

In the Gospel Reading, the Galilean fishermen hear Jesus' call to discipleship and give up everything to follow the Messiah.  They decided to follow Him without knowing where He would lead them.  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!

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.

Jonah resisted God's command to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to Israel's great enemy, the Gentile people of the Assyrian capital.  God told him the people of Nineveh would experience His judgment of destruction if they failed to repent within forty days of hearing Jonah's message.  Instead, Jonah took passage on a sailing vessel in an attempt to run away from God, but man is incapable avoiding the God of the universe.  After God caused Jonah to be swallowed by a great fish and to descend into the abode of the dead, he 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 went and preached to the people 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.

When 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.  However, the number three in Scripture is often a symbolic number to introduce an act of God, especially in His divine plan for mankind's salvation. 

Jesus recalls the exemplary conversion of the Ninevites in response to the message of God's prophet in the Gospels (Mt 12:41, Lk 11:32).  He contrasts the Ninevites response with the incredulity of the Jews to His Gospel message.  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 wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), but God in His mercy sent His Son as the unblemished Lamb of sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world (Jn 1:29).  Jesus' sacrifice is the only means open to humanity for receiving God's mercy and forgiveness for our sins when we repent and turn to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  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.
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.
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.

Psalm 25, attributed to David, is a lament 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 4-5, the psalmist asks God to give him instruction and to guide him in truth; he acknowledges that his salvation comes from God.  In verses 6-7, he asks God to remember him and to forgive him in the compassion, love and, goodness that God has extended to His people from the beginning of God's covenant relationship with Israel.  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 and repents 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).  God reveals the truth of the deadly consequences of sins and shows His mercy to those who humbly repent and turn back to fellowship with Him.  God also judges the works of everyone: works that are righteous and works that are wicked (Mt 25:31-46). These are the ways of God 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 give us this warning to encourage us to make the best use of our time to serve Jesus Christ and carry His Gospel of salvation to 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 our time in selfish, worldly pursuits.  We 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 with our family, our community, and the world before it is too late (Mt 28:19-20; Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8).

The Gospel of Mark 1:14-20 ~ Jesus Calls the Galilean Fishermen to Discipleship
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.

The tetrarch Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and ruler of the Galilee in the north and Perea on the southeast side of the Jordan River where St. John baptized repentant sinners in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  Antipas had an affair with his niece (Herod the Great's granddaughter) who was also his brother's wife.  He convinced her to divorce her husband and marry him, even though the Law of Moses forbade such a union.  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.  In retaliation for John's public denouncement, 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 his ministry had come to an end and Jesus's ministry must begin.  According to St. Luke's Gospel, Jesus was thirty years old at the beginning of His public ministry (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 to make the headquarters of His 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).

In verses 16-20, Jesus called His first group of Galilean disciples.  The brothers Simon and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee who owned their 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 almost three years following Jesus, they still had a fishing business (see Jn 21:3).  Fishermen who owned their 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 for a profit.

This encounter with Jesus was not the first time Simon, Andrew, and the Zebedee brothers had seen Him or been exposed to His message (see Jn 1:35-42 in last Sunday's Gospel reading).  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 that means "Rock" and translates 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 Jesus' divinity as 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 leave their fishing boats to 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 the Christ.  St. Mark uses the Greek word euthus twice in this passage.  This adverb is the keyword in Mark's Gospel and means "now" or "immediately," appearing 47 times in the Gospel of Mark's 675 verses.  Mark uses this word more in his Gospel than in the rest of the New Testament verses combined, and his use of this particular word 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.  Their decision to follow Jesus became their first steps on a journey to life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Their response to the call of Jesus Christ is an example for how we should 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; revised 2018