The readings of “Ordinary Time” (Tempus per annum, in Latin) focus a lot on the call to discipleship and the living of the Christian Faith. The readings for today’s Mass are no exception, as they present us with a number of disciplines for disciples. These disciplines free us to serve Christ and His Kingdom joyfully, energetically, and wholeheartedly. We can group these disciplines into three broad areas, such that discipleship is undefiant, unfettered, and untiring. Within these three categories are some other reflections as well. Let’s consider each area of discipline as reflected in the readings.
I. Undefiant – The first reading today covers the ministry of the reluctant prophet, Jonah. In today’s reading we get only the end of the story. But as most of us know, Jonah was not merely reluctant in accepting his mission as a prophet, he was downright defiant. Recall his story:
- His Refusal – The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it … ” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish (1:1-3). Thus, Jonah defiantly runs from God; he refuses the mission.
- His Running – Now Nineveh was 550 miles east of Israel. Tarshish was 2,500 miles west of Israel. Do you get the picture? Jonah was doing some serious running! Rather than go 550 miles to do God’s will, he was ready to travel 2,500 miles to get away from God’s will. It’s always a longer trip when you defy God. God wants to spare us the extra mileage!
- His Resistance – As Jonah runs away from God, great storms arise at sea. The storms of defiance rage, but Jonah sleeps. And the storms affect not only him, but those who sail with him as well. Yes, our moral decisions DO affect others around us, despite our individualistic notion that what we do is no one else’s business. And thus, for some of us, great storms can come into our lives. Has it ever occurred to you that some of the storms in our lives may be related to a situation in which God said, “This way,” but we defied him and said, “No, that way”? Maybe we need to wake up and say, “What does this storm mean?”
- His Return – Swallowed by the great fish, Jonah is brought back to the very place where he sailed away from God (Joppa). And, in effect, God says, “Let’s try this all over again.” So Jonah makes ready and goes to Nineveh, according to the LORD’s bidding. Yes, Jonah was smart this time.
So the point is that disciples (we) must learn to be undefiant. In effect, God wants to save us some mileage. Obedience to His will is always easier than disobedience.
Consider, too, how undefiant the Ninevites are as they hear and heed Jonah’s message. And notice how this lack of defiance saves them from destruction and a world of hurt.
It’s always easier to follow God. I did not say it’s easy, just that it’s easier. Someone may think sin is more pleasurable and easier in the moment. And, frankly, it may be. But sin unleashes a world of difficulties and complications in its wake. If you do not think this is so, just read a newspaper and consider how many of our difficulties are directly tied to our sinful attitudes and choices. Frankly, the vast majority of this world’s suffering is directly attributable to the rebellious sinfulness of humanity.
The first discipline of discipleship is undefiance. By this discipline, we are spared many difficulties and remain teachable and open to God’s wisdom.
II. Unfettered – To be unfettered means to be unchained, unshackled, and free to move about. The second reading today presents a vivid and sober portrait of what being unfettered and detached looks like:
I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world, as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor 7:29ff).
Now this text does not mean that we have no recourse at all to these things and people, but rather that we live “as” not having them. In other words, we must seek the gift to realize that nothing in this passing world remains. Nothing here, not even marriage, is the sole reason for our existence or the sole source of meaning for us. God, and God alone, is the source of meaning and the lasting goal of our life. All else will pass.
For most of us, detachment form this world is THE battle, the central struggle we face. On account of our attachment to this world, we are strongly hindered from freely following Christ. A couple of passages come to mind:
- Mark 10:22ff Jesus, said [to the rich young man], “If you would be perfect, go and sell all that you have, (and you will have treasure in heaven) and then come and follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
- Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money … So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
But the world so easily has a thousand hooks in us. We are chained and fettered; our freedom to follow Christ is severely compromised.
The fact is, the battle to be free and unfettered is a process. God can give us this freedom, but it takes time and obedience from us. Little by little, God breaks the shackles of this world, and all its treasures come to seem as of little value. Slowly we come to what St. Paul came to say,
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:7-8).
III. Untiring – Consider that among Jesus’ first followers were several fishermen. The text of the Gospel today says, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
But, we may ask, is there some meaning in the fact that fishermen were among His first and most prominent disciples? Perhaps so.
Consider that fishermen have some important qualities that are helpful for discipleship:
- Patient – Fishermen often need to wait for many hours, even days, for a catch. Disciples need great patience as do evangelizers.
- Professional – Fishermen need to spend time learning about the types and behaviors of fish, learning to observe the water and navigate, learning the right time of day and the right season to fish. They need to know the right bait, the proper use of the net. All of these traits are good for disciples and are especially helpful in evangelization, which is “job one” for the disciple. Through growing in practical knowledge, we come to know our faith and learn effective ways to be fishers of men.
- Purposeful – When fishermen are out fishing, they are entirely focused on their endeavor. That’s all they do; everything is centered on the main task. They are single-minded. Disciples surely need more of this attitude. The Book of James says, The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). St. Paul says, But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14). Every disciple needs to be more single-minded.
- Pursuing – Note that they simply go to the fish. Too many Catholic parishes merely open the doors and hope that people will come to them; that is not evangelization. The key word for disciples and evangelizers is “Go.”
- Partnered – Fishermen work in teams. Thus Jesus sends disciples out, two by two.
- Persistent – If fishermen don’t make a catch today, they’re back out tomorrow. Disciples surely need to persist, both in their own journey and in making disciples of others.
Thus, in today’s readings are a number of disciplines of discipleship. The green vestments of Ordinary Time remind us of growth, both our own personal growth and that of the Church. Ultimately, a free heart is a joyful heart. It is a heart that is not easily tired, because it is not divided by serving two masters. It is a heart that ungrudgingly serves the Kingdom.
Here’s a song that speaks of the patient, purposeful, and persistent action on behalf of God’s kingdom. It is a song that can only come from a heart that is undefiant, unfettered, and untiring; from a heart that says, “I keep so busy workin’ for the Kingdom, I ain’t got time to die!”