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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Homily. Readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 24; 1Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.

Green Stole and Gospel
Readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 24; 1Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

In all three Readings, the time is short and conversion is consequently an urgent matter. Conversion is a "turning from" evil and a "turning ones life towards" the kingdom of God that is imminent. Indeed, Jesus proclaims that it is already present - as it must be, for where he is, there is the kingdom - even if "not yet" in its fullness. The entire lifestyle of the believer is radically affected by the different vision of life that faith affords him (Second Reading). So profoundly changed is our relationship with the things and persons of this world that Jesus can even direct to whomever he wills a peremptory call to leave everything, even the most sacred of ties, in order to follow him; and whereas Jonah had been an unwilling prophet, giving in only to God´s strong-arm tactics (Jonah 1-2), Jesus´ presence obtains an immediate and willing response (Gospel).

We are a pilgrim people, essentially "on the way"; there is no sense in acting as if the rest and best of our existence were to be realized in our current dwelling place, which is not permanent (Hebrews 13:14). All the realities of this world are passing, mere intimations of the fullness of life that is to come. St Paul spells out the complete change in attitude (conversion) that must result with some examples: "those with wives should live as though they had none", while "buyers should conduct themselves as though they owned nothing".

The apostle´s words might appear to be at odds with what we habitually hear about marriage from Scripture and the Church, but he is simply drawing the consequences of what Jesus told the Sadducees: "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage." (Luke 20:34) Good as marriage is – and as a sacrament, image and realization of the mutual love of Christ and the Church, it is particularly good in the eyes of the Christian it is only a pale shadow of the love that will be realized when this world finally passes away, and the kingdom of heaven reaches total fulfillment with its acceptance by all. Since Christ, the relationship between the sexes is no longer reduced to conjugal union but also goes through the personal encounter of each one with the Lord. Not only does this enhance marital union, but also underlies the teaching that virginity or celibacy "for the kingdom", though misunderstood by the world, can be an even greater form of love for God and for our brothers and sisters.

Though the first disciples are unaware of it at the time, such a great love underlies both Jesus´ call to go with him, and their acceptance.  Jesus makes clear that the urgency of fishing for the kingdom requires that they be prepared to sacrifice home, family ties, possessions and whatever else might hinder them from keeping up with his relentless march in search of all those he must gather into the place of salvation (ekklesia). Peter and his companions accept the invitation without knowing where it will lead them. When it is Christ who issues the invitation, it is the only thing to do.

Marriage in context. To say that the importance of "sexual fulfillment", whether in or out of marriage, is grossly overrated in our society, is an obvious understatement (as well as a mis-statement, since in actual fact our society, incapable as it is of seeing any real human meaning or transcendence in it, let alone its richness and sacrality in the Christian scheme of things, greatly underrates sex). And many, many Christians are contaminated with the neo-pagan vision, the search for ´techniques´, the obsession with keeping the body young and beautiful... St Paul´s message then is as opportune today as it was when he wrote to the new Christians of Corinth, a city synonymous with licentiousness. Isn´t it true that for many (most? – even if they deny it!) a ´perfect marriage´ is a kind of a ´must´? This is the case even with those who know their marriage is far from it: that´s why they are profoundly frustrated. To expect that marriage can deliver ´perfection´ is the best way to make it more difficult, besides being a recipe for frustration. What St Paul´s words imply is that even in the case of a failed marriage, or even in the case of never marrying, just as in the more-frequent case of the far-from-perfect marriage, a person can have a beautiful life in God´s eyes. That does require accepting the cross as a good. It does require belief in a greater love than any there is on earth. For the married, it even requires working at marriage to make it as great a vehicle of love as possible on this earth. But, then all Christian life requires these things.

Possessions in context. Sex is not the only thing overvalued on the life index. As a friend of mine who works with young people in a prosperous western country likes to say, it seems that many think life is a game with just one rule: "at the end, the one with the most toys wins". "Toys" being all those things that hadn´t even been invented a few decades ago, but are now thought to be basic essentials without which one is an out-and-out pauper. Apparently, neither Christ nor St Paul understood this. St Paul said, "Okay, maybe you have some ´things´, but you need to give that fact no importance whatsoever". Jesus, we are reluctant to recall, not only asked his disciples to abandon their means of earning a living (their nets), but went so far as to claim no one could possess real happiness if not prepared to give up everything (Mark 10:21). He must have been thinking of a different game, one supposes. Everybody, of course, can decide for himself whose game works best. Without forgetting that what is at stake is true and eternal happiness.

The best recipe. Of course, anyone who hears Jesus´ invitation to follow him and does so without delay has found the very best path to that goal. No one who has any healthy self-love should ever, ever doubt or delay in answering Christ´s call, whatever and whenever it be.