Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B
January 25, 2008

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

There is a sense of urgency in today’s readings that simply cannot be ignored. It is like a rousing call, an alarm, an emergency signal that needs to be paid attention to. St. Paul is even very straighforward about it: the time is running out! And the call has to be answered, not in the future, but NOW!

There is something curiously paradoxical in the way young people (and the not-so-young) look at the future. On the one hand, the future is the reason for all of one’s efforts, one’s endeavors, one’s plans. One studies for the future. One saves up for the future. On the other hand, for the young, the future lies so far out of immediate reach. It is way beyond one’s daily experience. And such a belief and attitude leads one to be kind of lackadaisical about it. There is time…we say. We’ll think of that when the time comes. Why worry? Tomorrow is still a long way off…Or so we think…

There was a time in my life, I must confess, when I thought there was a whole lifetime up ahead. When you are in the morning of your life, to borrow Jung’s famous phrase, all one thinks of is the future that seems interminable. When one is just starting out in life as a budding, hopeful young adult, one thinks he has a whole future up ahead that would take a mighty long time to unfold. One does not feel the need to hurry. One is not subject to any form of time pressure and there seems to be no real need to rush and get settled in one’s niche. Youth and relative good health may tend to make anyone oblivious of the fact that there is an inevitable end to everything, including all good things associated with youth.

Funny but it has been deeply ingrained in our psyche for so long…one always has to prepare for the future. One has to think about one’s security in the future. The future seems to be everything. The future dictates all our plans, all our worries, all our strivings. And for the young, the future is still so far off, so distant and therefore something one should not feel pressured about. Not yet anyway… until reality kicks in at some point or other in our adult lives.

All of a sudden, at some point… a sudden experience of life-threatening illness, a major negative twist in one’s career – a demotion, perhaps – or a missed opportunity that one has been avidly waiting for, only to turn to ashes, the dawning realization that one’s physical powers are no longer what they used to be, a snapped tendon after a strenuous game, a torn ligament perhaps, or a death of a contemporary or the death of someone dearer or closer to one, and then one realizes that the future has come tumbling down upon him or her without anyone noticing it.

There is something salutary about the sense of urgency that the liturgy today rouses in us. For in this globalized and product-oriented, consumeristic world, the search for a better future understood as amassing more and more material sources of security, money, possessions, power and fame, there is a very real danger in centering our focus solely to an elusive empty future that ultimately makes us all miss the reality of the now, the present, which is nothing else but the future gradually unfolding right before our very eyes. The mad rush for success, for fame, for power and for money that is believed capable of procuring all of them can indeed, blind us to the present and its power to save. I have heard so many sob and sad stories of people who work themselves to death, and amass so much money until their last breath, but they die unhappy, even bitter, sad and surly – for they failed to enjoy what they worked so hard for. They were so busy working for the future, they missed the present.

Years ago, Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago, touched me very deeply. I think it was in that novel that Pasternak, speaking through one of the characters said something memorable and directly connected with what I am reflecting on: Man is born to live, not to prepare for life!

Man (and woman) is born to live! We are all called to fullness of life, not to living more or less. And to be constantly focused on some uncertain future, to be constantly worried on something that in essence is not within our control is simply to miss living in the here and now. It means to be enslaved by it, controlled and motivated solely by it.

There is something salutary in this wake-up call that today’s readings give us. There definitely is something good when the readings ask us to change our paradigms, renew our perspectives and see things in the light of the values espoused by the Gospel proclamation of repentance and salvation. “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mt 1:15) There is something salutary in our casting a fresh look at things that we think are absolute values, things that we believe we simply cannot live without. “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 fully.”

For we modern women and men have been doing it all along…we have been treating material goods and earthly values as absolutes. Let us face it squarely. We have made demigods out of what we hold most dear in our lives. We have considered as absolutes things which are essentially, by their very nature as mortal creatures merely relative values. “For the world in its present form is passing away.”

This sense of urgency is something Simon and Andrew and James and John, must have understood from their Master. They were busy mending nets. Now that was their bread and butter. They lived on fishing. And nets are their basic tools. But Simon and Andrew, James and John considered them only for what they were – mere tools; the means, not the end in themselves. Fishers cannot be stalled forever mending nets. They are meant to fish! And when the master called them to become fishers, no longer of fish but of people, they left their tools and did what they were asked to do. They were no different from the people of Nineveh, who probably saw the anguish and the urgency in the eyes of Jonah that they repented right on the first day of Jonah’s preaching!

There is a whole lot we need to change in our paradigms, in our perspectives. There is a whole lot more we need to discard once we see things in the right perspective. What sort of things tie us down and keep us enslaved. What attitudes fetter us down to a narrow understanding of salvation? What are the things we really consider as absolutes in our lives? Fame? Fortune? Power? Like the world, they all are fast drifting away!

The call to a sense of urgency is a call directed to all of us. Perhaps this is what we as a nation has forgotten all along. We are too busy politicking, we are too busy bickering and wrangling in the name of our political loyalties and parties and selfish agendas. We have absolutized politics to a great extent in this country, even as we are fast absolutizing money and possessions if we judge by the rate of growth in graft and corruption all over the country. We have absolutized comfort and personal gain, if we judge by the percentage points of people who favor divorce, abortion, and irregular unnatural unions. We have gotten too much intertwined with the nets of comfort and personal gain and we forgot to be fishers! For many who absolutized what they do, we have focused too much on work for God (more or less) and forgot the God of the work. Time is running out, dear friends! Now is the hour. Now is the time of salvation. “And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (ROM 13:11).