Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Paul doesn’t mince words today, does he? “Time is running out.” The time that is running out is a little more than the shopping days before Christmas that we went through just a month ago; it is a little more than getting that check written for a payment that is due. For Paul something bigger is at stake. It is more than the pressure of everyday living. Paul is trying to wake up the Corinthian community to the fact that a radical change is on the horizon. For him and the community it was the coming of Christ. Paul may have been off about when the Lord will return. But what remains valid is the feeling of urgency that such talk engenders. Time is running out and this world as we know it is passing away. Such language should make us think twice even today. Paul is right in the end. With the coming of Jesus, the world changes; things cannot be the same as they used to be. Paul is calling on the Corinthian community to realize that faith in Jesus Christ is not in addition to their daily lives; it affects everything about their daily lives, the choices they make, their joys and sorrows, their business plans, even their purchases.
This sense of urgency, the feeling that something new is on the horizon and demands a response from us, is found in all the texts of God’s word today. It is quite vivid in the story of the prophet Jonah, the reluctant prophet. We can easily get sidetracked by Jonah and the big fish. The big fish God sent was precisely to prevent him from escaping the urgency of the moment and his role in it. He was to go to Nineveh and call the city to repentance. God gives them a time limit of 40 days; 40 days or else you’ll be no more. After only preaching for one day, the whole city responds to the call and begins their fasting and mourning. The point being that the pagans or the non-Israelite Ninevites recognized God’s prophet and his message when he told them that “your time is running out.” They took the message to heart and acted on it even before Jonah finished his rounds of preaching in the city. The city, one and all, responded to the moment of God’s call and changed their ways. The surprising thing about the story is that the Ninevites were enemies of Jonah and Israel and yet they grasped the meaning of the moment. It would almost seem that it doesn’t matter who God sends with the message. The meaning lies in whether we recognize that this is God’s moment and respond accordingly.
Today we hear the first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (Last Sunday we heard the first words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: What are you looking for?). Like Jonah and Paul, Jesus’ words are about time: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” These are his first words and they certainly should make us sit up and ask who is this and what is happening here? It is helpful to keep in mind that Jesus is talking about a special time here. He is not just talking about the next thing coming up in the schedule. Jonah, Paula and Jesus are referring to the moment of great and decisive events. It is known as a kairos moment, a time when things come together; it is a time when God breaks into our scheduled time and opens up new possibilities; it is a time when life takes on new meaning; it is what happens when we experience something that will clearly change our lives. It can be a death, it can be a birth, it can be falling in love, and it can be making a promise. These are kairos moments. That is what Jonah announces to the Ninevites; Paul says scheduled time is running out because a new moment is here.
Today Jesus breaks into the ordinary world and business of Galilee with a new time, a kairos time and event: the Kingdom of God is here. Such an event and promise call for a response. Jesus tells us what that response looks like: repent and believe in the good news. It sounds simple. Repent here is not so much concerned only with sin and bad behavior. The word means “to change your mind” or better “change the way you see things” The root meaning of the word metanoia “change the eye of your heart.” Look at things differently. Look at yourself and the world in a new way. And for Jesus that way of looking at things is through the lens of the Kingdom of God. Change your view of the world and see it through God’s eyes. God is doing something new here, he is breaking into the world with his dream, his vision for what he intended from the beginning. What is needed on our part is a change of heart, or a change of vision.
The response of the first disciples is an example of the metanoia. What is clear in the call of Jesus is that these men entered a new world with Jesus. They followed him, the gospel says. This following of Jesus would forever change their lives. The skill and expertise of fishing would now have as its point of reference the Kingdom of God.
Our baptism plunged us literally into this new time. We changed sides as it were: we went from the passing world to the new world of the Kingdom. But it is a slow process for us. We have a continuing need to go through the same process of abandoning what we think to be the only perspective (leaving the nets and their entanglements and their catch) for the work of fishing for hearts. For most of us, we will probably spend a lot of energy stepping out of the small things that entrap us and confine us. These fishermen from Galilee left behind a rather good living—for what? For a relationship with Jesus and for a Kingdom that was of God. Jesus saw them and in that seeing they were caught. And when they left to follow him, they would see the bigger picture of God’s Kingdom.
The urgency felt in such phrases as “40 more days, and it is the end of you,” “time is running out” and “the time is fulfilled” is still there today. We know very well what urgently needs to be touched by the Kingdom of God. For one thing there are the many social issues that stand before us today; each need the good news of the kingdom: they range from the essential truth that all life is a gift of the God of the kingdom from conception through death, the recognition of the refugee and migrant, the acknowledgment of the evil of racism that divides and discriminates the children of God, the disunity among us Christians, the pollution of earth, our common home. Which of these does not urgently need to be overtaken by the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that Kingdom that can transform all this into a God-blessed and God-loved existence?
The urgency of Jesus’ first words still bears on us today. The Kingdom of God is still ‘at hand.’ It is not finished. We can still join the disciples and get out of our boats and join Jesus in learning to make this Kingdom a true home for all with whom we live and for the earth that sustains our every step. We all need to leave behind one point of reference and find another in the footsteps of Christ, whose footsteps alone can lead us into the way of peace, the way to God’s Kingdom.
Fr. Joel Macul, OSB