3rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (January 21, 2018)
I’ve never been to mainland Europe, but I have been told that some cathedrals from the 17th century have pulpits built in the shape of the mouth of a great fish. The preacher speaks to the people, standing as the prophet Jonah recently emerged from the mouth of the whale.
You remember the story; Jonah was sent to the east by God to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria -- modern day Iran. Assyria was the nation that earlier held the Jews in cruel captivity. Jonah, instead, headed west to the Mediterranean Sea and shipped out to go further west. Where, of course, he comes face-to-face with the whale.
This is a story loved by children, but it is primarily an adult story. Let us not get distracted by the story of how a man could be swallowed whole by a fish and live. This is not ichthyology, but theology. It is a comedic story more about what goes on inside a person than about what goes on inside a whale.
The Assyrians had done the Jews dirt; Jonah had been raised to hate the Assyrians. Jonah could not stand facing the truth that his own personal enemies were not God’s enemies.
God was threatening Jonah’s learned bigotry, threatening that puffed-up feeling of moral superiority. According to the scripture scholars, the Jonah story targets Jonah and fellow, narrow-minded Jews who were wrongly secure in being the “chosen people.“
There is good news: God brought about the single, most-sweeping renewal movement recorded in Scripture through the preaching of a man who was far from perfect. It proves again that God can write straight with crooked lines.
Who are our Ninevites? Terrorists, child-molesters, people of different national origin, different social standing, different racial background or sexual orientation? Could it be that God is sending us to bring his love to them?
In the beginning of Mark’ s Gospel, Jesus speaks to four Jewish fishermen. Each, like the Ninevites, responds promptly with his “yes” to Jesus. These, also, would stand out in sharp contrast to the many Jews who refused to accept Jesus.
So, the connecting link between the two readings is: God’s call & our response. The church, in placing these readings together, encourages a prompt, non-judgmental response, like the Ninevites and the four apostles.
How do we respond?
Perhaps we are like Jonah. Do we spend a good part of our life avoiding God by distracting ourselves with television or something else, so we don’t have to face our god?
Perhaps we are like the ancient Jews. We live out our personal exiles, bruised in heart with real or imagined hurts that we hold onto and stew over endlessly.
Perhaps we are like the apostles who quickly said “yes.” Peter and Andrew say “yes.” Jesus comes before business; James and john say “yes.” Jesus comes before family.
For both the apostles and for us, the journey may later get rough, and we need to remember that just as the apostles fell and got up, so must we. Our “yes” is not a once and for all decision. We, like them need to get up when we fall and begin again to live our ongoing “yes.”