Browsing Homilies

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [Sunday of the Word of God]

Jon 3:1-5, 10 | Ps 25 | 1 Cor 7:29-31 | Mk 1:14-20

Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand! Time is running out!

These are the messages in today’s liturgy. How often do we, as sinners, put off going to confession, thinking we have time on our side? The truth is that we never know the day or the hour when our time here on earth may be coming to and end. The point is to always be ready and willing to reconcile ourselves to God and to others. But it isn’t simply enough to confess our sins. We must actively turn away from our sins and live changed lives. It is the interior change of heart that God seeks from us—he seeks complete conversion. For this complete conversion to take place, we must not only say we’re sorry—we have to “do” sorry.

In today’s first reading, Jonah goes to Nineveh to warn the people to turn from their evil ways or face certain destruction. Initially, Jonah ignores God’s call to warn the Ninevites and famously boards a ship to flee to Tarshish, only to be tossed overboard and swallowed by a big fish. When Jonah prays for deliverance, God hears his cry: the fish spews him onto the beach, and Jonah is saved from certain death. Cut to today’s reading: Jonah has ears willing to listen, and he follows God’s command. Normally, it took three days to walk through the city, but after only a day’s walk, the people get Jonah’s message: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” Unlike Jonah—who initially ignored God’s call—the Ninevites respond right away after a decree from the king to fast and put on sackcloth and ashes.

“When God saw by their actions how they turned away from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do them; he did not carry it out,” we hear. Notice how the Scriptures say that God took notice of their actions and decided to respond with mercy rather than destruction. The people did not simply say they were sorry; they did sorry through tangible action—by fasting and wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Even so, fasting and wearing sackcloth and ashes are exterior practices—they do not connote the true interior conversion that we are called to make when we confess our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation. In this sacrament, we experience God’s forgiveness and mercy. We become reconciled to God and to others. The hope is that God creates in us a new heart. We are called to think and respond in new ways. We are called to forgive others and show them mercy—the same way that God has forgiven and shown us mercy. After Jonah experienced God’s mercy after initially ignoring God’s call, he was upset that God responded mercifully toward the Ninevites—he wanted to see them punished. Jonah did not want to extend the same mercy and forgiveness he had received toward his perceived enemies.

Are we much different from Jonah?

To forgive others their sins, to show mercy toward others as our heavenly Father has shown us, we must remember that we are all sinners. We must have God’s help. Jesus—God in the flesh—was alone without sin.* Jesus is the perfect model of forgiveness and mercy. Throughout his public ministry, the Sadducees and Pharisees constantly attacked Jesus. Yet Jesus never responded in the same way—always turned the other cheek and never retaliated. Even when hanging on the Cross, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).

It’s difficult for most of us to imagine modeling such forgiveness. It seems that the only people who have been able to accomplish such radical acts of forgiveness are saints like Maximilian Kolbe, who prayed aloud for his executioner at Auschwitz when he received a lethal injection of carbolic acid, or John Paul II, who forgave and visited (Mehmet Ali Ağca) his would-be assassin, in prison. And yet we are all called to be saints. We are all called to practice radical forgiveness.

We can look to today’s responsorial psalm for guidance and say, “Teach me your ways, O Lord.” Jesus is our Teacher—we are called to follow him as the disciples in today’s gospel. Jesus calls us to leave everything behind—including our sinful ways—and follow him.

Why delay?


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