3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Reading II 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Gospel Mark 1:14-20
We’re going to hear a lot about discipleship this year. That is what the Gospel of Mark is all about. And as Mark begins his Gospel the invitation is given by Jesus, “Will you step up to the plate and walk with me?” Both in the first reading in Jonah and then in the Gospel that is the question God is asking, “Will you walk with me? Will you follow me?”
This is the only time in the three-year cycle we will hear a reading from the book of Jonah. When you go home this afternoon, take your Bible and read the book of Jonah and you will find it is very picturesque.
Jonah didn’t want to get into the limelight and be a prophet. But God told him, “I want you to go to Nineveh.” Nineveh was not a place where anybody wanted to go. But God said to him, “I want you to go to Nineveh and bring these people to me.”
So we have the very famous story about Jonah. He is swallowed up and lives in the belly of the whale for three days. Later he is spit out and realizes he is being called by God to do something — “follow me and go to Nineveh.”
Then we have Mark’s Gospel story about the disciples when they were fishing along the shore and Jesus calls to them, “Will you follow me.”
Most men at that time were fishermen and chances are the disciples had already heard about Jesus. But that invitation, “will you follow me” was so important.
What Jesus was asking his disciples to do 2,000 years ago — “will you follow me” — is what Jesus is asking all of us to do this morning. We have to be really quick here and answer, “Lord, I am following you.”
Then Jesus says, “You’re not getting too close, are you. You’re always at a distance. You’ve always got a question. ‘Why, God. Why, did this happen? Why am I going through this.’ ”
And God answers, “I don’t want to hear it. I want to know, ‘Are you going to follow me, or not?’ ”
Soon the 40 days of Lent will be here. To prepare we need to repent and get rid of all the attachments in our life. It doesn’t mean you have to sell your house or your car and get rid of your family. Jesus is saying, “Come with me and I will show you everything you need in your life, and show you everything you need to do.”
So we need to pause and think, “What is it that God is asking of me? It doesn’t mean that my life has been a failure to this point, it simply means that I ask — am I being as open to God as I should be?”
We have to follow with our hearts and that is the center of discipleship — and know that what I feel inside of me is going to determine what I feel for other people.
Audrey will be baptized in a few minutes, and when she receives the water and the spirit, she will be as open as she ever will be for the rest of her life — because when we are baptized we are ready — we’re ready to swim. We’re ready to run and find that joy in life.
And that is a good barometer. If I would come around to each of you with this microphone and ask, “Do you feel joy this morning?”
If you have to hesitate then — no deal. But if you say, “I sure do. Everything that could go wrong went wrong yesterday, but man, do I feel like a million dollars this morning. I am ready to take on the world.”
And Jesus would say, “I want that energy. Come follow me.”
What stands in the way? Usually it is our self-centeredness. Either I am trying to be God, or I don’t want God to interfere with my plans.
And Jesus says, “That doesn’t work in my kingdom. Let me tell you about Jonah, let me tell you about all the fishermen. Let me tell you about the disciples and how they followed me. All you have to do is open the Bible and it is there.”
But eventually everybody comes. If you look at the newspaper today you will see the history of the Notre Dame Sisters in Quincy. Put yourself in the place of Mother Caroline who came from Germany almost 150 years ago. She came to this country by boat. She didn’t have a first-class seat on a jet. She came by boat and was sent to this town by the river. And she was told, “Welcome my children and teach them about God.” She was told to follow and she did, and the rest of it is all history.
She didn’t have to sell her habit. She didn’t have to give away the few dollars she had with her. Jesus said, “Wear your habit, I don’t want your money, I don’t want all that stuff — I want your heart.”
And so today may you and I just think about this and ask, “Am I really as generous and willing as I should be? Am I open to what God wants to do for me, and through me? Am I open to how much God loves me and wants to bless me?
So we ask every year for you to think about how to use your gifts and hearts to reach out to the parish and beyond. Sometimes it means stepping outside of the box. It’s as simple as saying, “I’ve ushered for 30 years, but I think maybe I have a calling to proclaim the word of God. I’ll try being a lector.”
And you might come up and proclaim the word and catch someone who has been waiting to hear that proclamation — not by me or Deacon Terry proclaiming it, not by anybody else, but by you.
We also need one another. If we are going to find joy, we need to have joy in our hearts. You don’t go to South Park for a picnic and bring fried chicken and all the works and say, “I’ve prepared enough food for 30 people, but I didn’t invite any one. I’m just going to sit out here in the park all by myself.”
Jesus would say, “Stop the cars. Get people to sit down and eat with you and you’re going to enjoy the food all the more.”
That’s what it means to be a disciple and to have discipleship. It doesn’t mean to hoard our talents but rather to share and to realize how we have been blessed — and then we see how God is working in all of our lives.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.