6 minutes reading time (1293 words)

Homily - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday of the Word of God, 24 January 2021 

Last Sunday, our Gospel reading asked us to focus on the Jesus who looked lovingly at people and invited them to come and see who he was. Today we see Jesus with two of the same men – Andrew and Simon – where he asks them, not just to see what they think of him but whether they trust him enough to leave everything they relied on and join him in seeking to bring people to God. Jesus proclaims that people should repent and believe the Good News. He wants people to join him in that mission. What might we learn from this passage on this Sunday of the Word of God?

Firstly, the Word of God is not merely a story about the past. We can argue over the meaning of words or the sequence of events in the Gospels. But the whole of the Bible is an invitation to have faith and trust in Jesus. The Gospels may contain the story of Jesus' ministry. But the whole Old Testament is a preparation for him. And the rest of the New Testament is a record of how the early Church proclaimed who Jesus was. Thus, each passage of the scriptures that we read has a value in itself - but it has meaning only as part of a bigger picture, what Pope Benedict called a love story between God and humankind[1]. That is why St Jerome insisted that 'ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ'. It is in the scriptures that Jesus is revealed. No amount of other spiritual practices can replace the essential role of the scriptures. That is why prayers like the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary are steeped in the Gospels. In the Mass we are fed at the Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist. Both are essential parts of how God nourishes his people.

Thus, when we come to today's Gospel, we can reflect on why, when and where this calling of the two disciples happened. We can reflect on why the early Church kept retelling it as such an important event. And we can ask why St Mark puts it at this stage in his Gospel. But we can encounter Jesus only by letting his words speak to our hearts. Jesus says to each of us, 'Repent and believe the Good News'. Jesus says to each of us, 'Follow me'. Can I invite each of you to take these phrases and to pray about them during the week? And then next Sunday you will find new phrases or events that touch you. The Bible is not so much a window on the past as a mirror on the present. It was a call to be a disciple then – and it is the same now.

Secondly, in this passage, Jesus is beginning a mission which says that God's Kingdom, God's reign is coming soon. Repentance means making a break with the past. And, joining him in the proclamation of that Kingdom, he wants people who are prepared to make a very visible break with their past. Peter and Andrew had a career and the equipment necessary to fish. So did James and John. That provided security and identity for them. Believing in Jesus as the Messiah was one thing. Being prepared to give up everything for the sake of Jesus was a much bigger risk. Everything that Jesus will do breaks the mould of what people expected in their religious lives. He will upset the leaders of his time and some of his family will be concerned about him, believing that he is out of his mind. Thus, the call to be join Jesus in his mission will always ask a lot and will seem to many to be unreasonable. The Church will not be renewed by reducing ministry to a sort of job that you might like and that would not ask for too much. A calling to be a close collaborator of Jesus has always to be on his terms, not ours. Peter and Andrew knew that it was a call to take an unreasonable risk. It was not a call to security or to comfort. There was nothing sensible about it. The Church has always been renewed by those who were so fascinated by Jesus that they were prepared to give up all their own plans and assumptions. Jesus is still calling those who are prepared to leave everything for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Conforming ministry to the standards of a secular age is the road to nowhere.

Thirdly, we heard about Jonah in the first reading. Jonah is a moaner. He has previously been called to preach and sought to escape. But God brought him back. And now he goes to Nineveh, convinced that God's whole plan is a waste of time. And he is shocked by how successful his mission is. There is a Jonah in each of us. There is a temptation to water down the Gospel message so that it offends no-one or to think that some people are a waste of time. But, when preaching loses its taste, it is fit for nothing. That does not mean being angry and condemning people – or seeking to control them. But it does mean proclaiming a message of a better way of living through grace. It means looking at human live through God's eyes. And, like Jonah, we have to be prepared to be shocked that the Gospel message of truth and mercy will be heard if proclaimed with authenticity and passion. Low expectations and lack of conviction are enemies of the Gospel – and of those who need to hear the power of Christ's message in their hearts. Ministry is a call to crazy generosity and trust in the wisdom of the Gospel. As followers of Jesus. Making disciples is our only mission and the only indicator of our missionary commitment.

There is a lot in our scripture readings on this Scripture Sunday. Jesus calls people to believe in him and he also calls some to minister in his name. As St Paul puts it, 'The world as we know it is passing away.' Jesus calls disciples to live a life of Gospel poverty. Those who seek to combine ministry and comfort can never proclaim the radical message of the Gospel because their personal life choices say something different. Jesus calls for radical generosity, not cut-price discipleship. And Jonah tells us that we should not be afraid to proclaim the Gospel with conviction. Jesus is not well served by those who moan about not being listened to and about the problems of the future. During a pandemic, people want to hear good news about hope and not be burdened with brooding frightened negativity. Secular society has little hope to offer. Jesus wants his Church to be bearers of healing. As fragile secular certainties crumble around us, this is a time for those who are prepared to lay down their nets and to be fascinated by the call of Jesus. In a world that needs so much renewal, hope will come from those who are full of courage for Christ's sake. Our society will be inspired, not by self-indulgence but by heroic generosity. As in every generation, that is how the Kingdom of God will be realised in our day.

+ Donal McKeown


[1] Deus Caritas Est, para 17


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