Responses to God's call vary
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
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The Good News for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time,
Sunday, January 23, 2000
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
You have to be a little suspicious of impulsive people. They usually act without thinking things through. Bad consequences follow. You may have to do extra to make up for what they have left undone.
On the other hand, sometimes you need impulsive people. Your car dies on the road. Someone snatches your purse. At times you need people who will drop whatever they're doing and give you their full attention.
To some degree, we're all a little impulsive. We pick up the phone whenever it rings, no matter who is calling. If someone shouts our name we stop to find out what is going on. When media and marketers told us Jan. 1, 2000, began a new millennium, we were ready to party, even though scientists and historians say it won't begin until 2001.
If someone walked off the job to follow a stranger who had spoken one sentence, you'd have reason to be a little suspicious. No terms of employment. No contract. No salary negotiation. No retirement benefits. Just an invitation to follow. If someone accepted, you'd doubt their emotional health.
Despite that, Mark's Gospel and the lectionary hold up the first hasty followers of Jesus for our admiration next weekend. The Gospel opens on impulse: Jesus passed by the Sea of Galilee, saw Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, and blurted out an invitation: "Come after me." They leave it all: nets, boats, father, and coworkers.
Impulsiveness may not be the only explanation. Another is the commanding power of Jesus. When he speaks a word, it is done. He is like the Creator, calling forth "Let there be ..." and so there was. The immediate response of the disciples may say less about their indiscretion and more about Jesus' authority.
The lesson, of course, is the total response Jesus seeks. He wants nothing in front of him: not tools, not a job, not coworkers, not family. Some complain about a family member uncommitted to wife and children. Others complain about an employee uncommitted to the job. Jesus wants all the commitment.
He sums up his message in one succinct proclamation: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel." The kingdom appears on the scene with Jesus, as if he is the kingdom, now at hand, now visible. In a jubilee year, these words ring especially loud. This is the time of fulfillment. This is the year of the Lord's favor. In this year of jubilee the kingdom of God is at hand.
That message has a certain mission statement appeal to it. It condenses to a slogan everything Jesus stands for. Just as you might buy a product or vote for a candidate based on one convincing ad, the disciples followed Jesus on hearing this word.
The Gospel for next Sunday (Mark 1:14-20) settles us into the main book for this year. This second year of the lectionary cycle goes to Mark. We heard little of him during Advent and Christmas because he opens his story with an adult Jesus meeting John the Baptist and spending time with him in the desert. But he will accompany us most of the year.
We'll hear from Mark's opening chapter over the next few weeks. The narrative moves swiftly, as you can already tell. One of Mark's most often-used words is "immediately," or as our translation has it: "then." Imagine a breathless child recounting all the wonders of the day: "Then we went to the top of the hill. Then the snow got worse. Then we got onto our sleds. Then we sledded into the tree." All those "thens" drive the narrative in Mark. "Then they abandoned their nets. Then he called them." It gives the whole story an impulsive feel.
If all we knew about Jonah was the brief report for next week (3:1-5, 10), we'd assume he was impulsive too. But there's more to the story. Jonah did not say yes when God first called. He ran away. Skipped town. Stowed away on a boat. God found him, sent a fish to swallow him and returned him to shore. Then the story picks up where we hear it next week: The word of the Lord came to Jonah, who went to Nineveh according to the Lord's bidding - but not until after he put up a fight.
People respond to God's call in various ways. Sometimes immediately, sometimes reluctantly. But if God is commanding your response, you will give it.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Kansas City.