THE CALL – Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B; Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

January 21, 2024

Revised Common Lectionary
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (4a)
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

When I was growing up, my family lived on a block where there were several families with children near my age. Since there was little traffic, we young people claimed the middle of the street on many afternoons and evenings during the summer for a game of wiffle ball, a variation of baseball intended for confined spaces using a perforated plastic ball.

We were interrupted from time to time by an approaching car, but the games didn’t usually end until our parents began to call us home. Sometimes we pretended not to hear, while at other times we stayed in the game until the end of an inning. Usually we responded a bit reluctantly—and often only after a second or even a third call.

In today’s Hebrew Scripture reading, we hear a portion of the story of Jonah, a prophet who also received a call and went to great lengths to escape it. Prior to the passage we hear today, he had already fled when God sent him to proclaim news of destruction in Nineveh, capital of the powerful and hated Assyrian Empire. Convinced that God would relent and show mercy to these undeserving foreigners, Jonah boarded a ship rather than take part in such a travesty of justice.

Jonah learned of course that when God calls, you can run but you can’t hide. In the wake of a storm that nearly killed all those on board, Jonah admitted to being the cause of their troubles and was cast overboard. We meet him in today’s first reading after he had spent three days in the belly of a large fish and been unceremoniously deposited on shore.

Jonah got the message, and so when God spoke to him a second time, he went to Nineveh as directed. Much to Jonah’s chagrin, this entire city of pagans heeded God’s warning. The people “believed God” and “proclaimed a fast” (Jon 3:5). As Jonah had feared, God did not inflict the threatened calamity but instead showed mercy.

In today’s Gospel reading, Simon (later known as Peter), Andrew, James, and John also received a call, but unlike Jonah, they responded without a moment’s hesitation. They simply got up and left everything behind. As the journey of discipleship unfolded, however, they would not always be on board with Jesus’s mission to serve and ultimately to give his life for others. Like Jonah, they would resist God’s ways by seeking power and prestige.

Just as the call came to the disciples amid their ordinary routine, so does it come to us in the circumstances of daily life. The Holy One shows up and beckons to us here and now, in our homes and communities. Few of us will be sent to far off places to bring a dramatic message, but all of us are commissioned to extend God’s compassion, mercy, and love to others—often to those who are closest.

Saying yes to God means taking a risk that we will be changed along the way and that things may not turn out as we had hoped or planned. Like the renegade prophet and the newly minted disciples we meet in today’s readings, we have no control over the outcome. We are simply to witness and serve as Jesus did, becoming living signs of God’s mercy and love in the world.

A Hymn for Today: “You call to us, Lord Jesus”

Hymn Society member Joy F. Patterson has created dozens of hymn texts, including this reflection on the call to discipleship, which takes as its starting point the story we hear in today’s Gospel reading. Patterson writes about the meaning of that call in the second and third stanzas, then in the final stanza adds a prayer for strength and courage to stay the course as we encounter difficulties and setbacks along the way.

You call to us, Lord Jesus,
As once in Galilee
You called to James and Andrew,
“Come now and follow me.”
They left their nets and followed,
And did not look behind;
Lord, we like them will follow,
Our life in you to find.

You came to preach deliv’rance,
To set the captives free,
To heal the brokenhearted,
To make the sightless see.
Your ministry of mercy
And justice is our task;
Help us like true disciples
To do the work you ask.

You summon us to visions
Of what this world can be,
Our hope and peace and freedom
For all humanity.
For justice we will labor
For ev’ry human soul
Till greed and hatred vanish,
And humankind is whole.

The path you bid us follow
Is not an easy road,
And doubt or pain or conflict
Will sometimes be our load.
Lord, grant us strength and courage
To walk the way you trod,
Till we behold in glory
The radiant face of God.

Text: Joy F. Patterson, b. 1931. © 1994, Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Jonah, John August Swanson, 1983

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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