Sunday of Week 3 of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Commentary on Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Last Sunday we saw the call of two disciples and we considered the nature of God’s call and how he calls each one of us. In today’s Mass we again look at Jesus calling disciples and see how they responded to that call. Today’s Gospel is in two parts, 1) the call and the challenge, and 2) the responses to the call.

The setting of today’s Gospel is immediately after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, when he received the endorsement of his Father and was filled with the Spirit of God. John the Baptist has been recently arrested (literally, ‘handed over’ or ‘given up’ – in Latin: tradetur) as Jesus himself will be, and his followers after him. We are reminded of this in the consecration of every Mass when the priest says:

This is my Body which will be given up for you.

The Kingdom is near
So now Jesus, in Galilee, begins his public life and mission. He begins to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel. It is summed up very simply in two lines:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.


Repent, and believe in the good news.

The expected time has come, i.e. the arrival of the Messiah, the Saviour King. And so the kingdom of God is close at hand, the kingship, the reign of God. This ‘kingdom’ is not a place, but rather a web of relationships. Those belonging to the kingdom are those who accept the life vision that Jesus gave to us and whose lives are based on that vision. It does not matter who they are or where they are and it exists here and now. The Kingdom extends far wider than the Church, which is called to be the sign pointing to the Kingdom’s presence among us.

The key to the Kingdom
How are we to enter that kingdom?

Repent, and believe in the Good News.

In the First Reading we see Jonah, the reluctant prophet, preaching repentance to the great city of Niniveh. Contrary to his expectations, the pagan:

…people of Nineveh believed God…[and] turned from their evil ways…

‘Repent’ here is more than just being sorry for the past; it involves a radical conversion (Greek, metanoia), a change of direction and priorities in my life. It is a turning from – but much more – a turning to.

This consists in believing in the Good News. It is not just to accept as true what Jesus or the Church teaches. To ‘believe in’ involves a total commitment, a throwing in of one’s lot with Jesus without any guarantees or preconditions. It is to invest one’s whole self (as people do in a good marriage, for better or for worse, in good times and in bad…).

Responding to the call
The second part of today’s Gospel shows the first responses to this call. Four fishermen are called:

Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.

At once, we are told, Peter and Andrew left their nets (the means of their livelihood) and followed after Jesus. At once, leaving their father Zebedee and his hired men, James and John also went after him.

It was a complete act of trust and a total surrender of themselves. To what? Actually, they had no idea where they were going. They had no idea of what the future held. This was the extent of their great trust in this man who came out of the blue into their lives and challenged them to leave behind their security and throw in their lot with him. They would, in fact, go through many unexpected experiences, some of them joyful, some of them full of pain.

They would indeed become “fishers of people” (Greek, anthropon – both men and women), continuing a great movement begun by their Master Jesus to bring people to a new way of living in truth, love, freedom and justice. But they never regretted that day they walked away from their security. They found experiences that transcended all their dreams.

Our response
The call is still going out to each one of us. Am I ready to answer? to follow? What are my nets, those things limiting my freedom to follow? What personal relationships are blocking my way? What anxieties? What self-centred ambitions?

Paul in today’s Second Reading tells the Corinthians to live in total freedom and detachment. Whether they be things or personal attachments, nothing we have is permanent; they can disappear at a moment’s notice. Whether life is very good or very bad: nothing lasts except the fundamental values of truth and love, of freedom and justice. It is what we are, not what we have that counts.

So ask today to hear the call. Ask to have the freedom to follow the call and to be ready to go wherever Jesus is asking us to go.

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