January 23, 2000 -- 3rd Sunday "B"
H O M I L Y
When the disciples left everything and followed Jesus they took quite a risk. Other prophets in their time had come who claimed to be the Messiah and many followed them, only to realize later on that they had made a mistake. The disciples were lucky; the one they followed was the real Messiah. And therefore, later on, they often recalled that first moment when they heard the call, and they somewhat embellish it. Each one of the Evangelists recounts it in a different manner and describes a different context. They tend to give the impression that their response was an immediate and definitive one. In fact they hesitated considerably and did not definitely abandon their occupations until after the resurrection. But in telescoping the events into a single episode the evangelists stress the essential point. This is the capacity of God's call, once it is recognized, to mobilize all human energies, and the authority with which Jesus actually chose his followers.
Jesus' procedure of calling his disciples to follow him is characteristic of the new style the young rabbi proposes to adopt. He does not gather them around him after the manner of contemporary rabbis and leaders of schools. He is not going to be a professor of thought seated on his chair with fervent listeners at his feet. He will be an itinerant rabbi constantly journeying toward the poor and errant. He will demand from his disciples not so much willing ears or enthusiastic gaze, but the willingness to travel, the courage to encounter the other at the furthest limit. Evangelization will not be a matter of closed circles, gathered in a common framework of thought around a common master. It will be going out of oneself to encounter the other.
That is well illustrated by the reading from the book of Jonah. There is a tremendous difference between the attitude of Jonah and the attitude that Jesus expects from his disciples when he sends them to a place. Jonah did not go to Nineveh as a missionary, but rather to execute God's inexorable judgment on the nations. The Jewish view was that this judgment would bring justice to Israel while punishing and destroying the Gentiles.
Jonah, the countryman, goes off, very sure of himself, to encounter the city folk. He is convinced that he will control the relationship between Yahweh and Nineveh. He possesses the truth about God and can explain everything as a result, as if God could be limited to the ideas that are formed about him. So sure is he of his theology that he thinks he knows in advance what the reaction of his audience will be. He will be able to control this and direct it in the required direction. Hence his chagrin at the unexpected attitude of the Ninevites. Deep down Jonah does not want either a free God or an independent audience. He has reduced everything to an elaborate theory, and ignores the persons.
We live in a society and a time when self‑righteousness, intransigence and holy‑war against the wicked are again becoming pervasively prevalent: a society and a time when again we find normal to murder people on an electric chair, or to execute the suspects summarily, and where we are called to engage in a whole series of holy wars against this or that sin or this or that error.
The reading of today remind us that Jesus did not invite anyone to any holy war. He invited everyone to a personal conversion. And when he invited some persons in particular to follow him, it was an invitation to live out their own conversion by showing with him love, understanding and compassion to all the victims of holy wars.
This is also his invitation to us.