In our times a great many cottage industries have arisen in order to help people discover their career path or professional track. Every high school has college counselors, colleges have career centers, and headhunters are omnipresent ready to help someone find the next job or change careers. Even in the Church we place a great deal of emphasis on discernment of our vocation with vocation directors, retreats, and the like. Today’s readings, however, suggest that very often we can over-think the call of God when in point of fact the calling is rather obvious.
The first reading provides us with the familiar story of Jonah, the man who epitomizes the reality of over-thinking the call of God. In this text we find Jonah fulfilling the call of God only after he had attempted to run away from that call previously. At the same time, we find the people of Nineveh embrace the call of God in their lives at once. Jonah had not even gone through half the city before the entire populace had turned away from sin and accepted the call of God. Jonah was an Israelite, a person of the nation that the one true God had made his own, and yet he could not accept the call of God fully in his life. However, the people of Nineveh, a foreign people, accept the message of God from the prophet of Israel.
The second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians in many ways is similar to the story of Jonah. Paul is preaching to a community that is plagued by sin at all levels. Ritual prostitution was a prevalent practice in Corinth, a wealthy trading city that also had many other pagan temples and other forms of debauchery. Paul is exhorting a community to remain faithful to the Gospel by living as Christ lived: detached from the material things of the world, ever in tune to the voice of God present to us. In this case, Paul is the faithful servant of God and the community has rethought the call of God in their lives. The call of God is really quite simple; it is we who make it complicated.
The Gospel text for today is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. After coming out of the desert, Jesus begins preaching repentance, telling people that the call of God is now. We need not wait for the coming expectation; the fulfillment of the expectation is present to us. Mark highlights this call of God coming to us now in the calling of the first followers of Jesus. Mark presents the calling of these disciples in a way unique from the other Gospels: here Jesus calls two pairs of brothers to follow him, and in each case these brothers follow. In the Hebrew Scriptures we often find sets of brothers at odds with one another: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. Jesus’ call to us ends the ancient divisions of brothers and brings us together into one family of God. What is more, these two sets of brothers were rival fishermen who were in competition with one another. Again, Jesus ends the divisions of economic rivals, leading us to heed the Gospel message over and against our own self-interests.
It was self-interest that prevented Jonah from hearing the call of God in his life. That same self-interest prevented him from seeing God at work in the foreign people of Nineveh. The Corinthian community fell away from the call of the Gospel because they considered their self-interest over the call of the Lord Jesus. The economic pressure of conforming to the culture around them proved too great for many in Corinth, and the example of these two sets of brothers in the Gospel who gave up their economic security and self-interest to follow Jesus had faded from their memories. In our own day the Lord Jesus calls us now to follow him. There is not much to discern here: either we follow our own self-interest and live for ourselves, or we can forsake our desires, follow the Lord Jesus and live for others. As the Psalmist says in the responsorial psalm today God “guides the humble to justice and teaches the humble his way.”
As we seek for the strength to be faithful to this call of God throughout the ages, we pray together: “Let us pray, pleading that our vision may overcome our weakness. Almighty Father, the love you offer always exceeds the furthest expression of our human longing, for you are greater than the human heart. Direct each thought, each effort of our life, so that the limits of our faults and weaknesses may not obscure the vision of your glory or keep us from the peace you have promised. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is Director of the Human Rights Office and chancery chief of staff for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here.
Monday, January 23
2 Samuel 5:1-7, 10
Psalms 89:20, 21-22, 25-26
Tuesday, January 24
2 Samuel 6:12b-15, 17-19
Psalms 24:7, 8, 9, 10
Wednesday, January 25
Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22
Psalms 117:1bc, 2
Thursday, January 26
2 Timothy 1:1-8 or Titus 1:1-5
Psalms 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10
Friday, January 27
2 Samuel 1:1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17
Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6a, 6bcd-7, 10-11
Saturday, January 28
2 Samuel 12:1-7a, 10-17
Psalms 51:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday January 29
Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.