The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
"Living with their heads in the clouds" is no compliment to anyone living in this world of ours. How realistic is Paul's advice, to live as though the ordinary events and concerns of life did not matter? As if business, planning, bereavements, possessions and the rest were of no fundamental importance? Well, first of all he does not mean that people should withdraw from all these things, or neglect the practical life.. What he does mean is that we should get our priorities right, and get a proper balanced view of things, so that what is of lasting importance can play its part too–namely, the question of our eternal destiny, and how we stand in the sight of God.
Under the influence of a brush with death–a near escape, or a recent bereavement–we come to realize how trivial are the usual concerns that engross us, when compared to the abiding mystery of life and death. Does it have a purpose? Is our life going anywhere, or is it simply an absurd farce, poised between comedy and tragedy? There are three common reactions to this mystery of life and death:
First: You can't take it with you–so spend it while you can. When you're dead you're dead and that's it! So make the most of these short years, enjoy them to the utmost, and then submit to the universal annihilation that awaits us all
Second: A hope that there may be life beyond the grave, but one which seems so shadowy and insubstantial that there's little point in thinking about it. Still, it's a worry. Perhaps there will be a punishing judgement for wrongs done in this life, which we managed to get away with
Third: The conviction that God holds each human life securely in his hand, so that death is just a passing-over into his direct presence. In the biblical view, we should not worry about death, nor about anything. in life so much as to turn to God, and obey his word. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his glory" says Jesus. If we can make the right primary decision, if our first desire is to fit in with God's plan for us, then everything else will fall into place; life and work, marriage, successes and failures, sickness and even death itself.
All of us, no matter how long we have been living in the faith, need to reawaken this attitude of trust. We need conversion, no, less than the people of Nineveh, or the people of Galilee. Repent, and believe, says Jesus today, to each one here. Believe that God is my father and your father; believe that he is near at hand, and that he is merciful; realize that God's will for you is that you be saved–and that includes the need to live by his Gospel. "Repent"–yes, the challenge is as fresh today as when our Lord first spoke it. As though we were hearing of the kingdom of God for the first time, and making our first act of total trust and total submission to God's love.
Taking Jesus at his word, being converted to genuine faith in God the Father, does not mean living with our head in the clouds. Genuine Christian devotion certainly fixes our ambition away above the passing things of life, but also keeps us aware of everyday duties towards other people. Hearing the Gospel, welcoming and following it, keeps a person with feet well grounded in reality, more keenly involved than ever in carrying out the tasks that have to be done here and now, because now is the day of salvation; now is the time, given us by God to pay him our thanksgiving through service.
We can all become rather set in our ways. We get into certain ways of doing things and it can be easy to stay with those ways and rather difficult to change from them. We develop routines and those routines keep us going. It often takes someone else to broaden our horizons a little, to open us up to areas of life that we would never otherwise have ventured into. We each might be able to identify such people in our own lives, those who introduced us to something that proved to be very enriching and that helped us to grow as human beings.
Jesus was such a person for the two sets of brothers in this morning's gospel. Peter, Andrew, James and John lived in a world that was very much defined by the Sea of Galilee. They were fishermen. The tools of their trade were their boats and their nets; the fruit of their trade was the fish that they caught and the money they received for selling on the fish. They had every reason to believe that this would always be their way of life. Their lives had a very particular rhythm and they probably intended go on living to that rhythm until they were too old or sick to work. Then, one day Jesus entered their lives and the impact he had on them was such that they left their boats and their nets, and even their families, to follow this man and to share in his mission. 'Follow me and I will make you fishers of people', he said to them. Instead of gathering fish into their nets, they would now share in Jesus' work of gathering people to God. It is hard to imagine a greater change of rhythm than the one which today's gospel puts before us.
The call that Jesus addressed to those two sets of brothers, 'Follow me', is addressed to each one of us. In our case that call will not mean leaving our jobs, if we are fortunate enough to have one, or, much less, leaving our families. Yet, the call of Jesus to follow him will always involve the opening up of some new horizon or other. In calling on us to follow him, Jesus is always opening us up to the horizon of God, to God's perspective on life. This will often mean looking afresh at the way we do things, the routines that we have built up and seem to keep us going, the rhythms that we have become used to and have learnt to live by. The Lord's call to follow him is addressed to us every day of our lives. It will mean something different every day, but it is always a call to keep making a new beginning in some way or other, to keeping setting out on a new journey, God's journey, which is the journey towards other people in selfless love, the journey towards a wider horizon.
Peter, Andrew, James and John were called to leave their natural family to embrace a much larger family, the future family of Jesus' disciples. The Lord's call to us to follow him today will always involve some element of that call to open ourselves up to a wider family, the family of the church or of humanity. The first reading this morning is from the story of the prophet Jonah. He was a Jew and he had all the prejudices of some Jews at the time against non-Jews. Yet, God called him to head out and preach the message of God's merciful love to the pagans, to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, the arch enemies of the people of Israel. Here was a call that was stretching Jonah's horizon to breaking point and he ran away from it. Yet, God pursued him and did not give up on him until Jonah answered the call. In this morning's gospel we find Jonah doing just that and his message met with tremendous openness from the people of Nineveh.
God's horizon is always so much wider than ours. The call of Jesus to follow him always involves a call to allow our own limited horizons to be stretched to embrace God's vision for our lives. Before Jesus called on Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him, he announced, 'the time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the good news.' The kingdom of God is not like any human kingdom. It has no boundaries; it needs no mechanisms to keep people out. Our calling is to keep living out of the endless horizon of God's kingdom. To do that we need to keep on repenting, to keep on dying to whatever narrowness of vision and lifestyle may be there within us. Saint Paul in the second reading today calls on us not to become engrossed in the world, not to give ourselves over completely to what does not endure and is not of ultimate significance. While living in the world we are called to look beyond it towards that endless horizon of God's kingdom. Today is church unity Sunday. Regardless of the church to which we believe it is in responding to that fundamental call of Jesus that we will grow closer together.