THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE URGENCY OF THE KINGDOM AND THE CALL TO REPENTANCE
We see the call for urgency in today’s readings. Nineveh, a great city, notorious for its sinful attitude, provokes God’s anger. The prophet Jonah is sent to warn Nineveh about impending punishment. Jonah speaks clearly and directly, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” The words move the people of Nineveh into emergency action, into repentance and conversion. Like in an atmosphere of war, the people of Nineveh act in haste, abandon everything, proclaim a fast, put on sackcloth as sorrow for their sins and turn back to God. The king sits on ashes himself and declares mourning in the great city. God relents on the punishment he intends for the Ninevites.
The parallels to the world today and the recounting of events in the scriptures are striking and prophetic. These are warnings although the human nature does not often take them seriously. The city of Nineveh we are told is, “notorious for its sinful attitude” but once warned by Jonah, the entire people, including the king, repent. The result is the blessing of God’s mercy. The leader of Nineveh set the tone for his people. God is always merciful to the repentant sinner. In contrast, the scriptures tell us of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, also notorious for sinning. Sodom and Gomorrah ignore God and refuse to repent. They do not don sack cloth and ashes but brazenly continue in their sins. God’s justice descends on them and they get punished.
Let us consider some actions of the world today, especially in the U.S. The U.S., the leader of the free world is in a terrible downward moral spiral. Once the breadbasket of the world and leader of morality, the United States is sinking deeper and deeper into awkward permissiveness. We are now the greatest exporter of abortion and pornography. The U.S. is among the top three worst countries for human sex trafficking. It has the second highest divorce rate, only behind Russia who is number one. We make the top of the list in gender bending. The second reading today warns us, “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out … For the world in its present form is passing away.” The time is now upon us where we must make a choice. We are either with God or against Him.
The gospel presents the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as he declares, “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” means we can no longer be cafeteria Catholics: I’ll take a little bit of this teaching but ignore or reject that one. I love the Lord but still want to play footsie over here with the devil. The scriptures are clear that we cannot serve two masters at the same time.
Simon, Andrew, James, and John hear the Word of God and act. These men are fully immersed in worldly desires, in earning their living through fishing. Jesus passes by and invites them to a higher calling, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They abandon their nets and immediately follow Jesus. Peter doesn’t say, “Hey Jesus, this is just really bad timing. I have a business to run and payroll on Friday.” Andrew doesn’t say, “Hey Jesus, I’d love to but I have to think about my retirement.” James doesn’t say, “Hey Jesus, I hope you won’t tell me not to get married or count me out.” John doesn’t say, “Hey Jesus, I’m still young. I want to live my life, party and have fun first. When I settle down with a wife and kids, then I’ll go back and dedicate time to you.” My friends, the truth is that we can always make up an excuse if we want. The best approach is to play to the rule of the game as proposed by God.
Jesus emphasizes that the kingdom of God is at hand. What exactly does that mean? We read about God’s kingdom and the kingdom of heaven in several passages of the gospels. John the Baptist often proclaims, “repent, for the kingdom of God is near” (Matt. 3:2). Jesus Christ himself not only says, “the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe” (Matt. 4:17), but he also teaches his disciples how to pray in these words, “your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). Jesus declares in the Beatitudes, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3, 10). He affirms at the Last Supper, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” (Mk. 14:25). In today’s gospel, he speaks of this kingdom in relation to the call to repentance.
The people of Nineveh in today’s reading respond to Jonah’s invitation and repent. Simon, Andrew, James, and John respond to Christ and follow him. In both instances, we see God’s grace at work. Their hearts are moved as they turn from old lives to the new ways of holiness and righteousness. That’s what conversion means, changing from old ways to new life in Christ. That’s how to experience God’s kingdom on earth. For that reason, Nineveh is saved. The disciples become fishers of men.
God’s kingdom means:
1. The rule of Jesus Christ on earth.
2. The blessing and advantages that flow from living under Christ’s rule.