Sunday Sermon for January 21, 2018, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Jon 3:1-5, 10; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

When we come to the end of the Church year, in late November, we hear readings about the end of time. This makes sense because as the Church year draws toward its close, it reminds us of time running out on the world. The readings related to the end times continue during Advent because we look back to the time of our Lord’s first coming, that is, being born for us in Bethlehem which, in turn, causes us to look forward to the time of His second coming at the end of time.

We see in these examples the logic to the way things are ordered in the liturgical year. That being said, we might be caught off guard today when we hear readings reminding us of the end. In the first reading Jonah preaches to the people of Nineveh that their city would be destroyed in forty days. In the second reading St. Paul reminds us that time is running out and the world in its present form is passing away. In the Gospel, Jesus proclaims that this is the time of fulfillment and the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Of course, the Gospel reading for today comes at the very beginning of our Lord’s public ministry, but it is still a clarion call to repentance and, as it will be at the end of time, so in the time of our Lord this was the fulfillment of what had been promised by God and foretold by the Prophets. So, although this comes at the beginning of the Lord’s preaching, it encapsulates His entire message and reminds us of our need to turn away from whatever offends God, as well as whatever does not lead us to God, and turn toward those things that lead us to Heaven.

In this vein we have to ask ourselves if we are willing to leave everything behind to follow the Lord. The day will come when every one of us will be called home from this life. We will have to stand before our Lord as our Judge. He may not ask us today to leave everything behind, but there are two things we can be sure of: He calls us to follow Him and He asks us to be detached from everything that is not Him.

Regarding the first point, we hear in the Gospel reading today our Lord calling Peter, Andrew, James and John. We are told they leave everything and follow Him. This would be radical for anyone, but these men were businessmen. We know Peter had a wife. Their decision to follow Jesus had an immediate impact; it also gave direction to the rest of their lives and ultimately brought them to Heaven. I assume Peter’s wife and the father of James and John might not have understood or supported their decision at first. If we are willing to truly follow our Lord and strive to do his will, we will also face opposition, but we have to do what we know is right.

This second point, regarding detachment, is the essence of what we hear today from St. Paul. He says those who have wives should live as though they did not have wives, those who weep as though they we not weeping, those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and so on. At the end of this list St. Paul states the present world is passing away.

Now, he is not telling married people to leave their spouses nor is he telling happy people to act like they are sad. Rather, He is reminding us that in baptism we have undergone a radical change: we have been purchased by the Blood of Jesus and, consequently, we are not our own, we are His. Beyond that, St. Paul is also reminding us that our life in this world will end (in fact, the whole world will come to an end) but we are called to a life that will never end. This is the basically the same as our Lord teaching us to store up treasure in Heaven.

If everything we accumulate in this world will pass away, is it really prudent to spend so much time and effort to accumulate these things? At the same time, if what we store up in Heaven will remain forever, wouldn’t it be prudent to spend our time and effort to accumulate Heavenly goods? Recall the words of St. Paul who tells us though Jesus was rich, for our sake He became poor. So, pray for detachment and follow Him generously because, as Jesus tells us in the first Beatitude, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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