January 23, 2009

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Jonah is the source for the first reading.

Jonah 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.

This 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 call the people to conversion.

The Jews who first heard this reading would have had a definite mindset about Nineveh and its inhabitants. By the time this book was written, foreigners already had subjected God’s people to conquests time and again. Of all these conquerors, none was more brutal than the Assyrians.

As a result, the Jews regarded Assyrians as utterly evil, not just as threats to the Jewish population, and even as fearful threats, but as powerful instruments very capable of upsetting the worship of the One God of Israel.

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the heart of this godless and inhumane empire.

Yet, Jonah succeeds in converting the people of the city. The message is clear. Anyone, even someone with the hardest heart, can repent. God wants all people to repent.

This weekend’s second reading is from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

Paul had a challenge in leading the Corinthian Christians to a fully devout Christian life. The city was what Nineveh was imagined to have been. Corinth was depraved, utterly engulfed in paganism and wickedness.

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 it requires fidelity to the Gospel and the Gospel’s values. The other option is eternal death, awaiting those who spurn the Gospel.

In this comparison, Paul obviously urges the Corinthians to be holy.

The Gospel of Mark provides the last reading.

It is the story of the Lord’s calling of Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John to be Apostles.

All the early Christians found stories of the Twelve especially important. It was from the Apostles that the Gospel of Jesus was communicated far and wide. The Apostles were the links with Jesus. Therefore, it was vital to assure, and present, their credentials. The credentials, of course, were that they had been called by Christ, had heard the message of Christ and had remained loyal to Christ.

Some would say that the Apostles mentioned in this reading were not the best candidates. They were simple men. Yet, Jesus called them and they responded in the affirmative.


The Church called us to celebrate the birth of Christ. Two weeks later, it led us to the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. A week after that, it offered us the feast of the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River.

All these celebrations, among the greatest of the Church’s year of worship, taught critical lessons about Jesus. He is human, the son of Mary. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior, assuming our sins even though Jesus was without sin.

Now, the Church moves into the process of asking us to respond. It tells us that Jesus called certain persons for particular roles. He calls us. Whatever the role, the keystone must be faithfulness to the Gospel.

No one is too sinful to be beyond redemption, if merely they sincerely choose to be redeemed. To an extent, we all live in Nineveh. Yet the Lord reaches out to us in mercy and love.

It is to our advantage to respond affirmatively. Death is the other option. The choice belongs to us. †

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