The kingdom of God is at hand — literally
By Tim Irwin
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time/Jan. 21
Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
The readings for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time remind us of the advantage of seeing this life in a more transcendent context. Jonah, perhaps the most reluctant of the prophets, has survived his undersea adventure in the belly of the big fish, and now trudges through Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire, proclaiming a message of repentance.
Surprisingly, the Ninevites immediately repent. Their king proclaims a citywide fast for everyone including the animals; he’s not playing around. The king then rises from his throne changes into sackcloth, a course material made of goat’s hair, and seats himself in a pile of ashes. The result is a citywide conversion made possible when people recognize that there is a dimension to life that transcends the triumphs and tragedies of our daily struggles.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, who lived at the same time as the prophet Jonah, said change is the only constant, a sentiment echoed in the second reading.
St. Paul warns that the normalcy of daily life can be quickly overshadowed by profound change. He says, “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.” In other words, don’t let the routines of daily life keep you from seeing the bigger picture.
SOMETHING OF TRANSCENDING VALUE
In the Gospel from Mark, Jesus announces the dawning of transcendency in a new and definitive way. He calls this the kingdom of God.
“After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” Jesus seems to be saying the time is right to reframe our view of this life and see it for what God intends it to be — an opportunity to fall in love with the Divine.
Their commitment to Jesus did not arise from a philosophical deliberation. They acted like men who long for an eternal love and they hit the jackpot.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John, partners in a fishing business on Lake Galilee, literally dropped their nets in answer to the invitation from Jesus to become “fishers of men.” Not a choice to be made lightly. Life on the road in first century Palestine was a dirty, dangerous business, but they went leaving their families and livelihood behind. It may seem perfectly sensible to us given how it has all turned out. We have the perspective from 2,000 years later; they had the perspective that comes from a desire to experience something of transcending value. Their commitment to Jesus did not arise from a philosophical deliberation. They acted like men who long for an eternal love and they hit the jackpot.
So, what can we take from the readings for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time? Life in the here and now is subject to change. If you have not yet embraced Christ and come to see this life for what God intends it to be, then repent. Sack cloth and ashes optional. Triumphs and tragedies will mark our days, but as St. Paul suggests, they don’t have to define us. The Kingdom of God is at hand — quite literally for us when we receive Holy Communion.
Let us accept the Holy Eucharist this Sunday with a fisherman’s heart. Not a choice to be taken lightly, but a choice to be made by people who genuinely desire to experience something of transcending value; people who hope to be defined by their ever-deepening love of Jesus Christ.
TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.