By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time- on the Gospel
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Our Mission to Nineveh

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Mark 1:14-20

One of the unforgettable figures of the 20th century was Princess Diana. Diana set out on a course to becoming queen of England but ended up becoming a world acclaimed queen of hearts. In the disillusionment that followed upon her loss of the royal title, it is easy to imagine her hearing the call of God, “Follow me, and I will make you queen of hearts.” Abandoning the rat-race for royalty and high society she obeyed the call of God and followed God along the path of service to suffering and forgotten humanity. Within her short life she won the hearts of the whole world. In today’s gospel we see the would-be apostles, Simon and Andrew, called to make a radical decision about the rest of their lives. They are fishermen. They are busy with their trade, casting nets, but we do not hear that they caught any fish. Probably on this particular day they too, like Diana, were going through a state of depression and near-despair. It is in this state of mind that they hear the word of God addressed to them by Jesus: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of souls” (Mark 1:17). They leave their nets at once and follow Jesus.

There comes a time in the life of every child of God when God invites us to follow Him more closely and to participate in His mission. This might require a change of career or at least a transformation of our present careers into a means of service. No matter the career path we have chosen to follow, be it in the teaching, medical, legal profession or retailing business, we have a basic decision to make: to pursue it solely as a means of livelihood and personal enhancement or to use it as a means of service to God and humanity. The fisherman can grow into a fisher of souls and the princess into a queen of hearts. Same line of trade but on a much higher level as we move from being self-centred to being God-centred, from being self-seeking to seeking the glory of God and the benefit of humankind.

God’s call to follow and serve Him often takes us to places we would never have dreamt of going. Diana’s call took her to mine fields and to AIDS hospitals. Jonah’s call in the first reading took him to Nineveh. For the Jew of the 1st century BC, Nineveh represented the seat of godlessness, immorality and corruption. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire that had conquered and colonized the kingdom of Judah, looted and destroyed the Temple, and carried the notables of the people into exile. It was a big metropolitan city where the social and economic law of the survival of the fittest reigned supreme. Materialism expressing itself in all forms of immorality, corruption and crime was the order of the day in Nineveh. For pious Jews like Jonah, Nineveh was the godforsaken city, the highway to perdition where evil reigned without any hope of change. For them Nineveh was a hopeless case, peopled by lost souls without the slightest hope of regaining God’s favour. No wonder Jonah objected to being sent there. As far as he was concerned the mission to Nineveh was nothing but an exercise in futility. The big surprise in the story is that as soon as the “godforsaken” people of Nineveh heard the word of God, they receive it with eagerness, repent with sincerity, and regain God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Even today God seeks men and women to send on the mission to Nineveh. Where is our Nineveh today? Our Nineveh today is found in the back-streets and alleys of our cities festering with prostitution, drug and crime. It is found in the ivory tower of the corporate establishment where the destinies of half of the world are decided without any attention to their interests and welfare. Jonah was not sent to the people of Israel who were believers already, neither are we called to cater for the interest of good churchgoers alone. God invites us to bring the Good News to unimaginable places and “impossible” situations. The good news for us is that these “hopeless” cases are not too hopeless after all. For if even Nineveh could turn back to God so can they.

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