January 20, 2012

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for this weekend is from the Book of Jonah, and is an Old Testament writing seldom presented in the liturgy.

While Jonah is the central figure in this book, he was not the author. The author is unknown. Scholars believe that the Book of Jonah was written sometime after the Babylonian Exile of the Jews.

The reading speaks of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, located roughly in the region of modern Syria. He went there at God’s command to preach conversion.

Preaching conversion in Nineveh was extremely difficult. The Jews who first heard this reading knew exactly how challenging the assignment would be because no city on Earth had the image of evil and vice that surrounded Nineveh.

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. Over the centuries, many neighboring powers invaded and overwhelmed the Holy Land. However, none of the invaders matched the Assyrians for their bloodthirstiness and brutality. Yet, the climax of the story is the conversion of the city.

For its second reading this weekend, the Church offers us a passage from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

Paul had a challenge in leading the Corinthian Christians to a fully devout Christian life.

Corinth was in reality what Nineveh was symbolically to the ancient Jews. The city was known around the Roman imperial world as a center of vice and licentiousness. It was a noteworthy distinction since vice and lewdness prevailed throughout the empire.

The Apostle calls upon the Christians of Corinth to remember that time passes quickly and that life is short. They have before them two options.

The first is life in Jesus, a life that is everlasting, but requires fidelity to the Gospel and the Gospel’s values.

The other option is eternal death, which awaits those who spurn the Gospel.

St. Paul obviously urges the Corinthians to be holy.

The Gospel of St. Mark provides the last reading.

First is a brief mention that John the Baptist “has been handed over,” a phrase later used to describe the arrest of Jesus on Good Friday. The reading notes that Jesus was preaching that the “kingdom of God is near.”

Then, the Lord calls Simon and Andrew, brothers and fishermen, as Apostles followed by the call of James and John.

For the early Christians, the Twelve were especially important. From the Apostles came knowledge of Jesus. It was vital to assure and present their credentials.

The Lord’s call was sudden. They were unprepared, yet Jesus and the offer of salvation caused them to drop everything and follow him.

The juxtaposition of the preaching of Jesus and the call of the Apostles is instructive. They were part of the Lord’s plan of salvation, and continued the Lord’s redeeming work.

Reflection

The Church called us liturgically to celebrate the birth of Christ. Two weeks later, it celebrated the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. A day later, it offered us the feast of the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River.

All of these celebrations taught critical lessons about Jesus. He is human, the son of Mary. He is the Son of God.

Jesus is the Savior, assuming our sins even though he was without sin.

Now, the Church tells us that Jesus calls us to salvation and eternal life.

He called the Apostles specifically to continue the work of salvation. The Apostles—and the Church founded upon them—teach us and invite us to follow Christ.

These four Apostles’ instant response is a lesson. Nothing is more important in life than being with Christ, and answering the Lord’s call to be saved.

Directly and simply, Paul told the Corinthians that they could accept salvation or not. It was their choice. We have the same choice. †

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