January 26, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) Reading II (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)
Gospel (St. Mark 1:14-20)
In the readings today we see a common theme in all three, that is, conversion, repentance, changing one’s life. When we look at the second reading today, Saint Paul tells us that the time is short. Now if 2,000 years ago the time was short what do we really think Saint Paul would be saying if he were in our world today? I think he would be crying out at the top of his voice trying to call to as many people as he could to be able to leave the errant ways that this world has presented to us and to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So zealous was Saint Paul in his message that he would actually go so far as to say that we need to live in such a way as though it looked like we were not living the way that we really are. That is, he would say, “Those with wives should live as though they did not have them; those who are weeping should live as though they were not weeping; those who are rejoicing as though they are not rejoicing,” and so on. He tells us that the world in its present form is passing away.
Think of the world that he was preaching to 2,000 years ago and then look at our world. The world in its form 2,000 years ago has certainly changed rather radically to what we have right now. But it was not a question so much of the way people were living that was going to change; the world itself is going to undergo a massive change. There is going to be a change in the world through the purification that God is going to bring upon it, and then eventually at the end of the world, as Saint Peter makes very clear to us, it is all going to go away; it is going to be destroyed in fire. Then God is going to remake the world into a place for our glorified and resurrected bodies.
So regardless of how we want to understand it, the world as we know it is going to change and there is going to be a new form, a new way of living. The point is that God is calling us to that already. Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans that we are not to conform ourselves to this world, but rather, we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we will be the very image of Jesus Christ. What would that image of Christ look like? The very first thing that Jesus did upon coming forth from the desert was to begin to preach, “The time of fulfillment is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” To repent means to “turn around”, “to change.” The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, “a turning around”, a changing of the way that we are living our lives.
When we look at the first reading as well as the Gospel, we see exactly that. Jesus goes to Peter and to Andrew. They are out in their boat fishing, and He tells them, “I am going to make you fishers of men. I am going to change the way you are living.” Now they could have said, “That sounds real nice, but how are we going to make a living, after all? We’ve got families to support. What are we supposed to do? How do we know that you are going to do what you really say that you’re going to do?” They did not do that. They brought their boat ashore, they got out, and they followed Him. James and John were in their boat mending the nets. Jesus called them and they immediately abandoned everything to follow Him.
Now we can look at our commitment to Christ and ask ourselves, “What is Jesus calling us to? What is He asking us to abandon? What is He asking us to embrace?” What kind of change would He ask for in our lives? If Our Lord were to stop in and talk to us today, what do you think He would ask you to get rid of? What do you think He would ask you to do differently? What sort of change in your life would He be asking? Is there enough prayer? Is there enough penance? Are we really struggling to get rid of sin in our lives? Are we wholeheartedly embracing the Gospel?
The difficulty most of us have is that we have heard the Gospel read so many times that it just does not make much difference to us anymore. We have all heard it before and so we do not ever do much about changing to live the Gospel. It is one of those interesting phenomena that people who are converts to the Catholic Church most often make the best Catholics because for them the fullness of the truth is something that is new. It is something different from what they have known before. They have looked at that truth and they have embraced it because they have recognized that there is a fullness of truth and something beyond what they ever knew was possible. And because they have seen this in their adult years, they have embraced it. They have rejected their former way of life and they are going to live the Gospel of Christ with zeal and enthusiasm. But for those of us who have had the fullness of the Gospel from the time we were little children, it is just the norm. There is not anything new or different; it is the way it has always been. “Since I was not really living it in its fullness when I was a child – and nothing bad happened to me then – why should I change now, because nothing too bad is happening to me in my life now either?” So there is no apparent reason to change.
The devil likes that kind of reasoning and he laughs because he knows what is going on in the world – he is the cause of most of it. He thinks it is just fine that we do not want to change our lives because he knows what will result from that. He knows that we are going to have to answer for our failure to repent, for our failure to change our lives. He is the first one who said, “I will not serve.” Is not our failure to change our lives really saying to God, “I don’t want to do it Your way. I will not serve. I will do what I want when I want. When the Gospel is convenient to me, well, then I’ll live it; and when it’s not, then I’ll come up with some justification as to why I don’t really need to live it”?
Remember the three towns where Jesus worked most of His miracles and where He spent most of His time preaching – Corazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum – He condemned them because He said, “If the works that were worked in you had been worked in Sodom and Gomorrah, they would still be standing. If they were worked in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But you…you didn’t change. You heard the words of the Gospel, you were attracted to them, but you did nothing about it.” Look at the people in Nineveh. Jonah had gone but a single day’s journey and gotten one-third of the way through the city and the people proclaimed a fast. They believed in the Word of God and they repented. They changed their way of life. Now these were pagans. These were people who were living in modern-day Iraq. They were not Jewish people who knew the Scriptures, who had heard the Word of God; they were not the people of the covenant. God had sent to the people of the covenant prophets and judges and kings. They had heard the Word of God and they refused to repent because they had heard it all before. But the pagans had not heard, and when one unwilling prophet went to them and preached but a single day, they believed what they heard and they acted on the Word. They repented.
What do you think will be our judgment if after hearing the Word of God day after day, week after week, and year after year we have done very little to live it? How do you think we are going to have to answer to God when He shows us a pagan who heard the Gospel and changed his life, when He shows us a non-Catholic who heard the Gospel and changed his life, and then He shows us our life and how many times we have heard the Gospel, how many times we have heard Jesus Christ say, ‘The time of fulfillment is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel’? How many Lents we have lived through and we have failed to change our lives! How do we think we are going to have to answer to that on the Day of Judgment?
The time is near at hand. The world as we know it is passing away. The time of fulfillment has drawn near. The choice is ours. The call of Jesus is irrevocable. He has placed His call in your heart. The question is not about the call or about the One Who gives the call; the question now is about the answer and the one who has received the call. What is our response to the call of Jesus Christ? The time of fulfillment is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.