Scripture reflections – Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Jon 3:1-5; 10;  1Cor 7:29-31;  Mk 1:14-20

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

I think it was Paul Harvey who once had a nationally syndicated radio spot entitled, “The Rest of the Story”.   The idea behind the series was for Harvey to fill in some of the colorful and interesting details behind major news stories of the day.

Paul Harvey would’ve done a wonderful feature on this Sunday’s first reading.  The impression you get upon first hearing the passage from the book of Jonah is how immediately and completely Jonah accepts God’s call to go and preach to the people of Nineveh.

Here’s “the rest of the story”:  This is God’s second try.  If you read the first two chapters of the book of Jonah, you’ll find that the first time God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh the prophet promptly gets on a boat heading for Tarshish – a geographical destination that is in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh.  Jonah wants no part of preaching to a city full of people who had a reputation as the most vile killers and conquerors of the ancient Middle East. (Archeological discoveries suggest that this reputation was well-earned.)  It’s only after God throws a storm at the ship, and Jonah is thrown overboard…and swallowed by a big fish!….and spit up upon the shore…that Jonah gets the message.  You can’t fight God.

Even after Jonah relents, however, it doesn’t appear that his conversion is complete.  When, to Jonah’s astonishment, the people of Nineveh repent, the prophet is less than thrilled: “But this was greatly displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry (4:1).”  It would seem that the wideness of God’s mercy was just too big for Jonah to comprehend.

And yet, despite all his reluctance and ambivalence, Jonah chose God’s will over his own.  We don’t know what happened to Jonah after the events recounted in the story – when we last see him he’s sitting on the outskirts of the city trying to make sense of an inscrutable God.  What we do know is that in the ways that really matter Jonah’s life was a resounding success.

Personally, I find great comfort in this story.   I wish that my call to discipleship was like that of the apostles depicted in Mark’s gospel – a quick and final leaving of my nets on the shore to never look back.   And there are days when it feels that way.   But there are also days when I look back longingly at those nets and wonder at how I could have been so naive.  Heck, there are days when I am deliberately taking steps back towards those nets – though I hope and pray they are not too many days or too many steps.

If your call to discipleship resembles that of Andrew and Peter and James and John – God bless you and thank you for your witness and for sharing  your gifts with others.  But if your call is more like Jonah’s – like mine is –  I hope you take some comfort from Jonah’s story and trust that God really does draw straight with crooked lines.

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

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