THIRD WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Jonah, the Man Who Ran From God
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’S bidding. Jonah 3:1–3
Jonah is one of the most beloved Old Testament prophets. Why? Perhaps because of the fascinating story of him being swallowed by a whale. This image lends intrigue to one’s imagination and is somewhat fairytale-like. It’s a good story and a fun story!
But what we may easily forget is why Jonah was swallowed by the whale. It was because he heard God call him to a particular mission in life and he ran as fast as he could the other way. He did all he could to avoid his calling. But God was relentless. In the end, God won and Jonah went to Nineveh to preach. The best part is that the people of Nineveh listened to him and changed their lives! Jonah’s preaching was, in the end, a great success.
Imagine what would have happened if Jonah would have just listened to God from the very beginning. It may have left us with much less of that fairytale-like story, but it certainly would have saved Jonah and others a great amount of stress. He would not have had to endure the great storm at sea, the wrath of the crew on that ship, the distress of being thrown over the boat and the experience of being held captive in the belly of the whale for those three days. All this could have been avoided if he would have just listened to God from the very beginning.
With that said, it’s also interesting and insightful to look at the story from another perspective. The truth is that Jonah did endure all of these difficulties. And though we may be tempted to judge him for that and shake our finger at him, we may want to be careful. Why? Because it’s entirely possible that God actually allowed him, by an act of His divine permissive will, to go through these struggles for a reason. It’s entirely possible, and perhaps probable, that it was part of the wisdom of God that Jonah, at first, resisted His will. Why would God do this? Most likely for our sake, in that Jonah becomes a great example for us. It seems clear that one of the main lessons from Jonah’s life was that God is relentless in His love for us and is relentless in calling us to embrace His will. So Jonah’s life and actions become prophetic and teach us a great lesson.
God does not give up on us. He does not simply throw us away the moment we turn from Him. Instead, our denial of Him only makes His resolve to pursue us all the greater. He takes our brokenness, our lack of resolve, our failings and weaknesses and uses them for His glory and His perfect plan.
Reflect, today, on whether you are discouraged in life and feel like you have failed in following the will of God for your life. If so, then the message of Jonah is clear. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. God has not given up on His plan for you, and He has not lost hope. In the end, you may discover that those parts of your life that seem to be the greatest burden and obstacle for you will be turned upside down by God’s grace and become the very source of the manifestation of His glory!
Lord, You never give up on me. You never lose hope. Give me the grace to change, to listen and to respond. Use my weakness and brokenness and let Your strength and grace shine through. Jesus, I trust in You.
Becoming an Evangelist
January 25, Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17
Saint Paul (who in Hebrew was known as Saul of Tarsus) was a devout Jewish Pharisee who vigorously defended the law. After Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, the newfound Christian faith began to grow rapidly. As a result, Saul of Tarsus vigorously tried to end this new religion which he perceived as erroneous. He travelled about looking for followers of Jesus to arrest and imprison. Saul even gave his consent to the stoning of the deacon, Saint Stephen, the first martyr. However, on one of his journeys, Saul had a vision of the risen Christ Who spoke to him gently, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). It was in that encounter that Saul was left blinded for three days.
The line quoted above are the words of Ananias, a devout disciple of Jesus. Ananias had also received a vision from Jesus Who told him to go to Saul of Tarsus and to lay his hands on him so that he would be healed. Ananias was also told that Saul was “a chosen instrument” through which the Gospel would be preached to the “Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel.”
Though there are many fascinating aspects to the story of Saint Paul and his conversion, it is also inspiring to reflect upon the way in which God first converted him. Jesus was not harsh with Saul. He was not condemning. Instead, he saw the goodness and vigor of Saul and knew that he would respond if he were given the opportunity. Though Jesus used the powerful action of striking him blind, He did so because He saw so much potential for good within Saul.
This same truth applies to our lives. Each one of us has incredible potential for good, and God does see this. God is aware of all that He can do with us and is seeking to draw us into His mission of sharing the Gospel with those in need. The question to ponder is whether or not you have responded to the ways that God has spoken to you and invited you to serve Him with your life. Saul’s encounter with Jesus was powerful and transforming not only because he was blinded by this vision—it was powerful and transforming, first and foremost, because Saul wanted to serve God but was trying to do so in an erroneous way. And once that error was corrected, Saul responded in an immediate and complete way. As a result, Saul became one of the greatest evangelists in the history of the Church.
Reflect, today, upon the desire in the heart of Jesus to invite you into His mission. Though you may be unaware of the many ways God can use you, Jesus is fully aware. He sees all of your gifts and knows who He wants to draw to Himself through you. Say “Yes” to Him this day and do so with every fiber of your soul. Doing so will allow God to do great things through you.
Lord, I do love You and desire to be used by You in the way that You choose. Help me to convert my heart more fully to You so that I can be led by Your gentle and powerful hand. I accept whatever mission You give to me and pray that my life will give You true glory and further Your glorious Kingdom on earth. Jesus, I trust in You.
Doing the Will of God
Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
“Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:34–35
Jesus said many things that caused people to pause and think. Today’s Gospel passage is one of those times. Just prior to the passage quoted above, Jesus was told that His mother and brothers were outside looking for Him. After hearing this, instead of going to greet them, He asked those around Him, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then He looked around and answered His own question with the above quoted Scripture.
What may have caused some people to pause and think at that time, and even now when this passage is read, is that Jesus’ comments can easily be misunderstood. Some will conclude that He was distancing Himself from His own family and that He was even disowning them to a certain extent. But nothing could be further from the truth.
First of all, we know that Jesus had a perfect love for His dear mother Mary and that she loved Jesus with a perfect reciprocal love. As for His “brothers,” it was common to refer to one’s extended family (such as cousins) as brothers and sisters. Therefore, these brothers who were coming to see Jesus were relatives to one degree or another. And though our Blessed Mother, the mother of Jesus, was perfect in every way, Jesus’ extended family was not. Recall that some of them thought Jesus was out of his mind and tried to prevent His public ministry.
But back to our question: Was Jesus disowning His family members in some way? Certainly not. Instead, He was establishing a deeper context for His new family in grace. Though biological bonds are a gift and must be respected and cherished, the spiritual bonds established by our joint conformity to the will of God is of much greater importance. Jesus simply pointed to this fact, elevating the spiritual family bond over the purely natural. Of course, it’s also important to point out that Jesus’ mother was first and foremost His mother, not only because she gave physical birth to Jesus, but primarily because she was in perfect conformity to the will of God with Him and, thus, the most intimate member of His family by grace. And the same can be true for all of us. When we conform our wills to the will of God, we become Jesus’ “mother” in the sense that He enters our world through us. And we become His “brothers and sisters” in that we become intimate members of His eternal family and enjoy a profound and spiritual union with Him.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that you are called to be so much more than just a physical brother or sister of Christ Jesus. You are called to the most intimate and transforming familial union imaginable. And this union is more fully accomplished when you seek to fulfill the will of God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength.
My dear Lord, I desire deeply to become more fully a member of Your most intimate family in grace. Help me to always dedicate myself to the complete fulfillment of the will of our Father in Heaven. And as I conform my will more fully with that of the Father’s, draw me deeper and deeper into union with You. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Deepest Desire of Your Heart
Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
“Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.” Mark 4:20
This description from the Parable of the Sower seems to describe a growing number of people in our world today. The first grouping of people mentioned in this parable have little to no faith and are represented by the seed sown on the path which is quickly consumed by satan. The second group of people have a little initial faith and are represented by seed sown on rocky ground. The passage above represents the third grouping of people who are like seeds sown in good soil but is also among thorns. The fourth are those who are like rich soil and the Word of God grows deeply in their lives. Let’s consider the third grouping of people in more detail.
There are three evils that choke off the Word of God in our lives: “worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things.” In our day and age, there are many who encounter various types of anxieties, are consumed with a desire for material wealth and find themselves craving many other things. In all three cases, these interior temptations have the effect of overwhelming the pure Truth of the Word of God in their lives.
Anxiety is a common problem today. And though this is a psychological struggle much of the time, it also can have spiritual roots. Anxiety is the struggle of worrying excessively, nervousness about many aspects of life and an uneasiness about the future. In this case, when the Person of Jesus and the Truth of the Gospel message does not consume and direct our lives, we are left on our own to “figure it out.” And this loneliness will almost always lead us into a loss of hope, fear and lack of deep peace.
Most people who struggle with anxiety will constantly look for a cure. And one place they often look is the deceptive consolation of material wealth or the “craving for other things.” Imagine if you won a tremendous amount of money. Would this resolve your worries in life? Though you may be tempted to think it would, deep down we all know that this is a lie. Material wealth is never a reliable source of satisfaction in life. The same is true with almost everything else we “crave” in life. One thing and one thing alone can satisfy. And that one thing is God.
Reflect, today, upon those things in your life that seem to occupy your mental energy. What do you worry about, hope for, deeply desire? What do you falsely believe will relieve your interior struggles? What do you crave? Take time today to remind yourself of the irrefutable truth that God, His holy will and all that He has revealed as True is the only source of satisfaction. Seek to let that Truth sink in deeply in your heart so that the Truths of God will grow and bear the abundant good fruit you so deeply desire.
My merciful Lord, help me to be open fully to Your holy Word so that the seed of Your Word will be planted deeply in my heart. May I always reject the many lies and deceptions of the world so that I can be freed of the anxieties and fleeting pleasures of life. May I seek only the deep and sustaining delights that come from a life fully given over to You so that I will live in the peace and grace of Your holy will. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Manifestation of Your Soul to All
Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
“For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” Mark 4:22
What a fascinating little line in the Gospel for today! What does this line mean? Though many have offered various commentaries upon the meaning of this line, let’s turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for some insight:
In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life… (CCC #1039).
This passage comes from the section on “The Last Judgment” rather than “The Particular Judgment.” The Particular Judgment will come for all of us at the moment of our passing from this world. It will be an accounting of our sins and virtues before God in a personal and private way. But the Last Judgment will come at the end of time and should be seen as a universal judgment upon all in a very definitive and public way. Thus, this line from the Catechism seems to suggest that both our good actions and evil ones will be revealed for all to see.
If the Scripture passage above, as well as the passage from the Catechism, are properly interpreted to mean that during the Last Judgment even our deepest sins, including those that have been forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession, will be made manifest for all to see, this idea can, at first, be a bit frightening. But it shouldn’t be. It should be liberating.
If every action of our lives, both good and bad, will be made manifest for all to see at The Last Judgment, then this will result in one thing and one thing alone for those who are in Heaven: the glory of God and much rejoicing! In other words, if God reveals every sin we have committed, then He will also reveal our repentance from those sins, the purification we endured, and the forgiveness we received. Therefore, those who make up the Communion of Saints will not look upon us with judgment; rather, they will glorify God in the same way we glorify God and thank Him for His abundant mercy and forgiveness. We must always remember His forgiveness and continually rejoice in that fact. Therefore, if all truly is made manifest, then it will be so that we can all rejoice together in the incredible mercy of God and can look at each other with gratitude for all that God had done for the other.
Reflect, today, upon the possibility of that glorious moment. Imagine the freedom you will experience by allowing God to share the deepest sins and the deepest virtues of your life with all who share Heaven with you. Shame will be gone. Judgment will be gone. Rejoicing and gratitude alone will remain. What a glorious moment that will be!
My glorious Judge, I thank You for Your mercy and forgiveness in my life. I thank You for freeing me from all sin. Please continue to purify my soul and free me from even the attachment to all sin. May I never forget all that You have done for me and may Your mercy become the cause of my eternal rejoicing and Your eternal glory. Jesus, I trust in You.
Transformation in God’s Grace
Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Mark 4:26–27
It’s beautiful to reflect upon how the Word of God changes people’s lives. This short passage above analogizes the sharing of the Word of God with the planting of seed. The sower goes forth and scatters seed into the ground and then observes how that seed grows into a fruitful plant. The mysterious line states “he knows not how.”
So it is with the Word of God. When that Word is received by another, we are blessed to be able to stand back and watch as that Word takes root and transforms their lives. Of course, at times we may sow the Word and it doesn’t take root. This is on account of either the hardness of another’s heart or on account of the way in which we sow. But when the seed of God’s Word does take root, we should be in awe of how God works in that soul.
Think about this reality in your own life. How did you first receive the good seed of God’s word? Perhaps it was through a sermon, a retreat, the reading of Scripture, a book or the witness of another. Think about how you first received God’s Word into your life and what effect it had upon you.
Once God’s Word has taken root in a soul, it is a holy practice to “rise night and day” so as to observe this seed as it grows. Specifically, we must allow ourselves to be amazed at the mysterious way that a life is changed, be it your own life or the life of another. It’s inspiring to observe as the soul of a person begins to root out sin, to seek virtue, to establish a life of prayer and to grow in the love of God.
If this is something to which you find it hard to relate, then perhaps it’s time to either allow that seed of God’s Word to fall gently and deeply into the fertile ground of your own soul or to prayerfully look for ways in which God wants to use you to sow that seed into the heart of another. Doing the latter takes much openness to the working of the Holy Spirit. It requires that we allow God to inspire us so as to know how we can cooperate with His hand in evangelization.
Reflect, today, upon the “mystery” of a soul who goes through this process of change and spiritual growth. If you find it difficult to find such an example to ponder, then turn to the lives of the saints. The saints are among the greatest witnesses of those who allowed God’s Word to sink deeply into their lives so that they became new creations, transformed by God’s grace. Ponder this transforming witness and allow yourself to be drawn into gratitude and amazement as you do.
My transforming Lord, I thank You for the way that You have sown the seed of Your holy Word into my own life. I thank You for the way in which You have changed me, freed me from sin and set me on the path to holiness. Use me, dear Lord, to sow that seed in the lives of others and fill me with wonder and awe as I witness Your merciful hand at work. Jesus, I trust in You.
Faith During the Storms of Life
Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. Mark 4:36–38
Throughout our lives, we can be assured that at some point we will encounter a storm. Not just a physical storm but a spiritual one. It may come in the form of a tragic event, a deep wound inflicted by another, the effects of our own sin or some other painful experience. And for many people, this will happen more than once.
When such a “storm” is encountered in life, it may seem as if Jesus is “asleep” and not readily available to help us through. When this happens, the message of the Gospel above is very helpful to prayerfully ponder.
As this Gospel passage continues, we read that the disciples, in a panic, woke up Jesus and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus got up, addressed the storm and said, “Quiet! Be still!” and all was calm. He then said to the disciples, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” The disciples were left in amazement and wonder.
The key is faith. When we face a storm in life, we must have faith. But what does that mean? It means that we must know, with a deep certitude, that Jesus is in fact always with us. We must know, with a deep certitude, that if we place all our trust and hope in Him, He will never abandon us. We must know, with a deep certitude, that every storm will ultimately pass and that peace and calm will ensue.
Facing the storms in life with faith is transforming. And often Jesus appears to be asleep for a reason. The reason is that He wants us to trust. Too often we turn our eyes to the storm itself and allow fear and anxiety to dominate our lives. But every storm we encounter is an opportunity to trust Him on a new and deeper level. If life were always easy and consoling then we would have little reason to trust deeply. Therefore, every storm must be seen as an opportunity for tremendous grace as we place all our trust in Jesus, despite how things immediately appear.
Reflect, today, upon how deep and sustaining your own faith in Christ truly is. Do you trust Him no matter what? Are you able to trust Him when all seems lost, when life is difficult and when confusion tempts you? Prepare, now, for the next such storm you may face and resolve to use that opportunity as a moment in which your faith is made manifest and becomes the stabilizing force of your life.
My sleeping Lord, help me to always place all my trust in You, no matter what the circumstances are in my life at every moment. Strengthen my faith, especially, during those times when I face challenges and temptations. May I never doubt that You are there with me, leading me and keeping me close to Your merciful Heart. Jesus, I trust in You.