January 24th 2021. Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .
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GOSPEL Mark 1:14-20
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen.
And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’
And at once they left their nets and followed him.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
SHORTER HOMILY . . . This Sunday has been named by Pope Francis as Sunday of the Word of God. The first reading recounts the story of Jonah preaching to Nineveh, capital of Assyria. The city is truly enormous. In a sense it represents the entire pagan world. Jonah doesn’t want to preach among his enemies, but this story demonstrates that the reception of God’s word is possible for everyone, even the most hardened of pagans. When the people convert and begin fasting, God repents of his intention to destroy the city. The Hebrew word for God’s “penitence” has the sense of God being consoled at the people’s conversion.
Considering the Gospel, the Greek word used by Christ in this passage, “Repent!” is metanoia. It indicates going beyond one’s customary mentality, of being liberated from one’s own fixed ideas. It also indicates a complete change of direction. Christ tells us that the time is “full”, history has reached a moment of completion. We are invited to believe in the Good News and be converted. Conversion requires a change of destination. It also has a sense of rediscovering one’s original good and pure intentions. Each one of us has a latent memory of the good state in which we were created and its good purpose. Our destination determines and influences everything that we do. St Ignatius in his Exercises asks us to consider the final end of who we are, the final end of our creation: salvation, heaven, God himself.
Whether or not we are living a meaningful and full life depends on our destination. The issue is not how good our life is now or how difficult it is, but where we are going. One man might be living a life that appears wholesome and good, but in reality he is tending towards evil, whilst another man in a difficult situation of illness or strife is actually heading towards the good. The first situation is degenerating, whilst the other is actually entering into life. Marriages are often saved when they rediscover their goal, their original destination. It is the same for a religious vocation. We often make mistakes, but the important thing is to be converted, to go beyond our present mentality, to rediscover the good origins we once had and our true direction. It is vital that we not absolutize our own way of thinking. In this sense, it is important to leave aside everything, boats, parents, family, in order to rediscover our mission, and to find ourselves in the Lord.
LONGER HOMILY FOLLOWS
The first reading and the Gospel both speak of the arrival of moments of change and conversion.
The first reading tells the short story of the mission of the prophet Jonah. Jonah had to undergo an interior journey in order to become a prophet, but here we just see the episode when he finally exercises his ministry and prompts the conversion of the city of Nineveh. This was the capital of Assyria and the fiercest enemy of Israel. The Gospel is from the first chapter of Mark, the most ancient of the Evangelists, and it gives us the very first words spoken by Jesus in this narrative: “The time is at hand! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent and receive the Gospel!” Jonah, by contrast, says something much more negative in tone: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” What is the connection between the first reading and the Gospel? The theme in common is that of a time that has arrived. Nineveh was a great city that required several days to cross. The conversion of such a city represented a change of historic proportions. Everyone, from the great to the small, put on sackcloth and repented. In the Gospel there is an explicit call on each person as an individual to change.
Change, conversion, flexibility, openness – all these are necessary in life
How does the human being change? There can be no doubt that the theme of Sunday’s liturgy is conversion. Conversion is something that is necessary. It does not happen once and for all - it must occur continually. Our hearts and minds must be living and flexible, not petrified in stone. It is impossible to live without conversion, without the willingness to abandon one’s fixations and modes of behaviour. Love is impossible if we are unwilling to adapt in the face of the things that happen to us. How can we raise a child if we are unwilling to move beyond our own interests? How can a man love a woman all his life if he is not willing to enter into the rhythms, surprises and states of soul that characterize her? Life involves allowing oneself to be changed by things. Of course there are some things in life that are non-negotiable, but a certain flexibility and openness are necessary if we are to grow in step with reality. A good way of offending someone is to tell them that they are inflexible, unchanging, wearing blinkers that only permit them to see things as they wish. We must open our eyes and be always capable of a new synthesis. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis says a beautiful thing, paraphrasing the Gospel line that says “where your treasure is, there also is your heart”. Pope Francis modifies this slightly, saying, “where your synthesis of life is, there also is your heart”. All of us see the world from our own perspective, but this viewpoint is never complete, no matter how balanced and mature it might seem. We need to be changed and enriched constantly. Ecclesia semper reformanda est - the church is constantly in need of reformation and evolution, though it remains the same church. We too must be malleable and flexible, though always remaining ourselves and remaining faithful to the truth.
There is a time for everything. Some things require reflections and discernment. Sometimes it is not the right moment to act. But when it is clear what the Lord wants from us, then we must act without delay
So when does the moment of conversion arrive? Both texts this Sunday point to the question of time. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” “The time is fulfilled! The Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Life is not just a series of uniform events. There are moments when it is right to do something and other moments when it is not appropriate. If you do something wrong, then there is a time to correct that error before it is too late. There is a time to speak to children on a particular issue. When that time passes, it is no longer possible to speak productively of that thing. When we say an offensive word to someone, then the time to make amends is immediately. Later it is much more difficult to put things right. Sometimes it is better to wait until things calm down before speaking about a particular problem. The point is that life has a rhythm. We must enter into this rhythm and do the correct things at the correct time. When Peter, James and John are called by Jesus, they leave their nets immediately. Sometimes we are called to something, and the response should be immediate. Waiting is the wrong thing to do. It is true that things must not be done in haste. The things of God are done in a balanced way. But when it is clear that the time is at hand and God is calling, then we must not wait a second. In the interval of time during which we delay, the work of destruction enters. There are forty days till the destruction of Nineveh, and the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand right now. Once I have understood what it is I must do, then I must wait no longer! This is not haste. It is doing what must clearly be done. When something appears to our conscience as something right, good and appropriate, then we must not delay. St Augustine tells us that while something is in doubt, we should not make a firm decision. But once things are obvious then we must act. How many people refuse to do that which is clearly right to do! How often we behave like potential Christians, a dawn of Christianity that never becomes day, a handful of promises that never becomes concrete. We wait and wait without acting, even though it is evident [k1] what the Lord wishes us to do. When it is apparent that something should be abandoned, then it must be abandoned immediately. Firstly we should use all of the discernment that is possible in this world. But once things are clear then we must act, leave Zebedee and the boats behind. The things that have nothing to do with the good must be put aside - whatever it might be - boats, nets, ways of life. If Nineveh waits, the city will be destroyed. If Peter delays, his opportunity will vanish and he will become an anonymous figure. If we are to be true to our calling, then we must enter into the rhythm of life. When the truth is clear in our hearts, then we must act without delay.