3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Entrance Antiphon: Ps 96(95):1, 6 — “O sing a new song to the Lord; sing to the Lord, all the earth. In His presence are majesty and splendor, strength and honor in His holy place.” First Reading: Jon 3:1-5, 10 – “The Ninevites turned from their evil way.” Responsorial Psalm: Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 — “Teach me Your ways, O Lord.” Second Reading: 1 Cor 7:29-31 — “The world in its present form is passing away.” Alleluia: Mk 1:15 — Alleluia, alleluia. “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Alleluia, alleluia. Gospel: Mk 1:14-20 — “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Communion Antiphon: Ps 34(33):6 — “I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” “The world in its present form is passing away.” That’s what Saint Paul tells us in this weekend’s Second Reading. And we’ve been hearing the same message all during the year we just left behind, too. The novel coronavirus ... COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. A renewed awareness of hidden racism in our institutions and in our hearts has prodded us to examine our collective and individual consciences. Now we have a new slate of elected public servants to confront the challenges ahead. In 1964, Bob Dylan wrote a song, “The times, they are a-changin’” ... reflecting what Saint Paul told us ... “the world in its present form is passing away” ... And as Catholics ... as Christians ... as God’s faithful ... one thing we could do ... one thing we should do ... is turn to God’s Word for guidance. We do not have to face the future alone. If we were to write the Book of Jonah today, we might move the location from Nineveh to Las Vegas (or some similar place ... maybe Atlantic City or New York City ... perhaps Times Square). Jonah-like figures often appear in cartoons and on street corners in places like that, announcing the end of the world. Think about it. Perhaps you’ve seen individuals with signboards around their neck and a similar message scrawled for everyone to read. We most likely look at them ... and take them or took them ... almost as seriously as the original audience of the Book of Jonah took his story – as a complete joke. And yet the author of this satirical book was claiming that the impossible can happen. Even Sin City, wherever that may be, can be converted. God’s wrath can be turned aside by prayer and penance, God’s wrath can be turned aside by a change of heart on the part of people who stop going in the wrong direction. In the Gospel, the message of Jesus Christ faces a similarly impossible situation. The powerful Roman Empire was going in its own direction. The people of Israel needed a religious revival as well as a deliverance from oppression. Jesus preaches Good News, the Gospel. God’s kingdom is coming. In Jesus, the kingdom has already come. The Son of God has arrived on earth on December 25th as a human being who would change history. And the future looks bright for those who turn their lives around and follow Him. He will teach God’s ways and make God’s paths known: the ways of truth, the path of compassion and the path of love as we hear in this weekend’s Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 25). And you know what? Jesus did not expect to do this all by Himself. He called His first Apostles: Peter and Andrew ... James and John. They would continue the proclamation of the Good News. They dropped everything and followed Him. And Jesus calls each one of us to share in the same apostolic mission. The Kingdom of God cannot come if only a select few proclaim it. We will always need leaders, but we need the whole People of God to “abound in good works,” as we heard in the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass, so that Jesus’ mission can be accomplished. Each of us is called to a change of heart by our Baptism. Each of us is called by our Baptism to share in Christ’s Mission to be Priest, Prophet, and King. All of the baptized share in Christ’s Priesthood. This participation is called the “common priesthood of all the faithful.” Did anyone tell you to “offer it up” when your day wasn’t going according to plan? Your works, your prayers, your activities of family and married life, your apostolic endeavors, your sufferings and setbacks of life, and even your relaxation can become spiritual offerings pleasing to God when united to the sacrifice of Christ as the Priest offers the Bread and Wine during the Mass. God’s people also share in Christ’s role as Prophet. This means both teaching and witnessing God’s Word out there in the world. Just remember what Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach always ... Sometimes use words.” God’s people share in Christ’s kingly mission ... which is to lead others to God through our loving service to them. We are called, in imitation of the Lord Jesus, to be people who offer themselves willingly in service to others. Actions of such service can point to Christ’s Kingdom of love, justice, mercy, and salvation to all persons, cultures, and governments, and other structures of society. Actions like that would show that we believe All Lives Matter and we wouldn't need demonstrations to prove it. And remember, we are also called to a life of service to the Church herself. Servant leadership is a responsibility to all God’s people within their differing roles and responsibilities. We need to renew that call and that mission today, early in 2021 – and then renew it each and every day to come. In the Book of Jonah, the prophet urges the people of Nineveh to change their hearts in order to avoid catastrophe. Jesus began His public life by announcing the kingdom of God and calling His contemporaries to change their hearts. He chose Apostles to join Him in that proclamation. All of us are called to drop everything and follow Him on this urgent mission. As I took some time this week and thought about the story of Nineveh and the call of the first disciples once again ... maybe, just maybe, COVID-19 was a wake-up call that God sent us. How many of us heard that message? I think the deeper implications were overlooked, even ignored. How many times do we look at past decisions with regret and say well, "Hindsight is always 20-20." Well we're in 2021 and hindsight is in 2020. Maybe, just maybe, we're being asked to rethink and to re-prioritize what should truly be important in our lives. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI added an option for the Dismissal Rite of the Mass to emphasize our role in sharing Christ’s proclamation of the Good News: “Go, and proclaim the Good News ... the Gospel ... with your lives.” This is our vocation and our challenge. There is an impossible Nineveh out there for each one of us to transform. With God’s grace, we can do the impossible. We can change our own Ninevehs into the kingdom of God.