Epiphany III Year B 2021
The three readings set for today, I have often thought could have easily been set in Advent. You have Jonah preaching repentance in Nineveh, warning the people there to be aware that God is watching them. Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians telling them to stop doing what they were doing or had planed to do for the return of the Lord is nigh and in Marks’ Gospel we have John-the-Baptist announcing that the Kingdom of God has come near and Jesus calling his first disciples to help him in his ministry. Three readings from different times in our history but with a common theme - be prepared to meet God at anytime.
There is more than a taste of the ‘end time’ in these readings. They are a reminder that all things will come together in the return of Christ and we need to be on our guard watching and waiting for Christ’s return. But, how to prepare ourselves?
Firstly, we need to know that we need to be prepared! Look at Nineveh, the people were having a great time, living a hedonistic life. Everyone doing what they wanted to regardless of the effects their actions may have had on others. Nineveh was living a completely selfish life-style and it needed a prophet, spewed up from a whale on its waterfront, to bring it to its senses. It was a pretty dramatic way to gain their attention but God knew it required drastic action to jolt that city into changing its ways. When one looks at some of the behaviours around the world today, one wonders what it might take to do something similar?
Secondly, St.Paul tells us that time is very short. Although he was writing some 2000 years ago, the urgency in his writing remains. Time is short for all of us to change our ways and to do things differently for none of us know when our lives will end. If God calls us to him, we go and nothing we have planned or hoped for will change that fact. As our National Poet Robert Burns wrote:
“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley…”
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. How true those words are; no matter how much we plan or prepare for something the outcome maybe very different to what we thought it might be.
Thirdly, in his Gospel account St.Mark has the Baptist jailed for his missionary work and Jesus calling all to repent for the Kingdom of God is nigh. Some listened and many ignored him. Jesus knew the task ahead of him was daunting and he has the sense to call others to help him and however he did it, those four fishermen immediately gave up everything they may have had planned to follow the preacher. I bet when they woke up that morning they did not expect to give up fishing for a living later that day. Their ‘best laid plans’ certainly changed.
Underlying all these readings and the message they contain is the process of conversion. The people of Nineveh were converted back to the ways of God by Jonah’s call to repentance. The Corinthians were warned that they needed to convert their souls in order to be true to the ways of God and those frost disciples were covered to following Jesus by what they heard and saw. In all these conversions what seems to be apparent is the fact that we are called not to cling to the familiar when it is doing us no good but to take a risk and do things differently.
This past year has been a rather different year to anything most of us have ever experienced. In two days time the Church celebrates the conversion of St.Paul - a conversion to Christ that certainly changed Paul’s life and countless numbers of others since. From zealot and persecutor to follower of Jesus was a big change in Paul’s way of life. Our conversion to the faith may not have been as dramatic as Paul’s or those first disciples but whether or not we realise it we have all been converted at sometime. For some of us it might have been a ‘Damascus Road’ type conversion that stopped us in our tracks and set us along a new path following Christ. For others of us and I suspect the majority of us that conversion would have been more gradual and almost unnoticed. Can many of us actually remember when we decided for ourselves that we were a follower of Jesus? We have all done it at sometime or we would not seek to worship God as we do. Yet for most of us that conversion is sub-conscious but something we hold precious when we think of it.
All people of faith are on a journey towards God, a little closer every day and in this week of Christian unity we give thanks for our journeys and the different paths we tread towards that God through dedication to his Son. There has never been ‘one’ church every bit of the Early Church was different to each other and they didn’t agree on everything right from the start. The differences, however, enable more people to follow Christ because the church is not a ‘one size fits all’ (regardless of what some may think or say). The Church is a unity of different ways to God through Jesus and different ways appeal and attract different people - that is the beauty of the Church. Every one of God’s people can find a place in ‘the Church’ should they wish and choose it as there will be one of the expressions of church that speaks to them and converts them making them fellow pilgrims on the way to the Kingdom of God.
We are not called to be the same as each other but to be ourselves converted and renewed by the Good News of Christ and coming to God humbly and excitedly as we daily take that step closer to him and eternal life.