RUNNING FROM GOD

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time            

            This week’s readings focus on the theme of call. Our first reading briefly recounts the call of Jonah. Jonah is one of the most beloved Old Testament prophets. Why? Perhaps because of the fascinating story of him being swallowed by a whale. This image lends intrigue to one’s imagination and is somewhat fairytale-like. It is a good story and a fun story.

            However, we must not forget why Jonah was “swallowed by the whale.” He refused to journey to Nineveh to preach repentance to the people there as God had instructed him. He sought to escape by sailing in the opposite direction. Jonah heard God call him to a particular mission in life and he ran as fast as he could the other way. He did all he could to avoid his calling.

            But God was relentless. In the end, God won and Jonah went to Nineveh to preach. The best part is that the people of Nineveh listened to him and changed their lives! Jonah’s preaching was, in the end, a great success.

            John Paul Thomas has an interesting take on this story: “Imagine what would have happened if Jonah would have just listened to God from the very beginning.” “It may have left us with much less of that fairytale-like story but it certainly would have saved Jonah and others a great amount of stress.” “He would not have had to endure the great storm at sea, the wrath of the crew on that ship, the distress of being thrown over the boat and the experience of being held captive in the belly of the whale for those three days.” “All this could have been avoided if he would have just listened to God from the very beginning.”

            Having said that, it is also interesting and insightful to look at the story from another perspective. The truth is that Jonah did endure all of these difficulties. And though we may be tempted to judge him for that and shake our finger at him, we may want to be careful. Why? Because, as John Paul Thomas comments, it is entirely possible that God actually allowed him, by an act of his divine permissive will, to go through these struggles for a reason. It might have been the plan of God all along.

            In other words, it is entirely possible, and perhaps probable, that it was part of the wisdom of God that Jonah, at first, resisted his will and rejected his call. Why would God do this? Most likely for our sake in that Jonah becomes a great example for us. One of the lessons of Jonah’s life is this: God is relentless in his love for us and is relentless in calling us to embrace His will. So, Jonah’s life and actions become prophetic and teach us a great lesson. 

            God does not give up on us. He does not simply throw us away the moment we turn and run away from him. Instead, our denial of him only makes his resolve to pursue us all the greater and more intensely. He takes our weakness and brokenness, our lack of resolve and commitment, our reluctance and refusal, our faults and failures, and uses them for his glory and his perfect plan.

            Today’s gospel passage narrates the call of Jesus’ first disciples. He called Simon, Andrew, James, and John by telling them: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” This is also addressed to each one of us. “Come after me…” The meaning of this phrase is this: Jesus is telling us: “Walk as I walk… Act as I act… Be as I am.” And the phrase “I will make you” is synonymous to “I will fashion you… I will form you… I will recreate you.”

            Bishop Robert Barron has this beautiful reflection on today’s gospel: “When Jesus calls his first disciples, he stirs the ‘imago Dei,’ the image of God, in them.” “They realize that they will find themselves only in surrendering to the One who will make them fishers of men.” “We hear the same call from the same Christ.” That is the heart of the spiritual life: to be formed by Christ. Be shaped in such a way that we will think as Jesus thinks, we will act as Jesus acts, we will live as Jesus lives.

            Let us end with a prayer: Lord Jesus, You call us to follow You. Weave Your dream for the world into the fabric of our lives. Remove the scales from our eyes and lift the indifference from our hearts, so that we may see Your vision. Reform and transform our lives so that we may accomplish Your purpose. Amen.

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