21st January 2018
The Biblical story of Jonah and the whale is a fascinating story with many sub-plots and deeper meanings within it, dealt with very well on the website of the American Catholic Bishops’ Conference. We, unfortunately, only have a very short extract (3:1-5,10) from the whole story. Jonah, whose name means dove and indicates peace, is told by God a second time to deliver His message to the Ninevites. He must go and preach God’s anger to the wicked people of Nineveh, a huge city east of Israel and the capital of their longtime enemies. He had been told this before but tried to avoid both God and doing as asked – that’s the bit about the storm at sea and the whale. This time Jonah obeys this request from God and these enemies of Israel repent, for every single one of them believes in God (whom Jonah thought was just the God of Israel). With this show of repentance and the people giving up their evil ways, God has mercy on them. Even just this small bit of the story has something to say to you and me – listen, discern and heed!
In the Second Reading (1 Cor 7:29-31 ) written about the year 50 AD we detect how Paul thought then that the time was very soon for the final fulfillment of God’s plan in Christ – for the end of the world as we know it. But in later parts of his writings and other parts of the New Testament the delay in this actually coming about had made the early Christians think otherwise. However, the passage holds for us the message of the urgency of preparation for our fulfilling of our part in God’s plan for us. Not for us the abandonment of normal human activity but rather full engagement with our role in life in accord with the will of God in so far as we can discern it. But the rate of change we experience in technology and in the international situation does remind us that the world as we know it is continually coming to an end. Again the change in understanding God’s ways with humanity which this passage in the context of the New Testament indicates, must teach us to be cautious about any certainty we feel in respect of God’s plans for our world and for each of us at this time; before the mystery of God we must have due humility!
The Gospel (Mark 1:14-20) tells us of the end of the work of John the Baptist and the beginning of the public mission of Jesus in Galilee. Mark is emphasising that not only are the two people and their roles different, but that when Jesus started his preaching and teaching, the work of the Baptist was over. Then we read of the call of the first few disciples. It was only last Sunday that we heard an alternative version of this story. We need to be aware that a gospel is not the same as a plain history. The word gospel means good news, and the evangelists are trying to communicate to their audiences, and through this Word of God, He is trying to communicate with us something of what our life should be like as a follower of Jesus. So, unlike John’s version which we heard last week, the other gospels emphasise the immediacy and the completeness of the disciples’ response to Jesus’ call. Of course there is an historical basis for it – Jesus did have special followers – but the good news for us is that we too are called and should respond at once and wholeheartedly! Mark probably heard the call described by Peter when preaching to potential converts. Now Mark speaks to us.