Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Time is running out. Repent because the world in its present form is passing away.

Dominica III per Annum B

21 January 2018

Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites (1866) by Gustave Doré

Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites (1866) by Gustave Doré

Imagine if in the course of your ordinary morning routine the message that recently appeared to citizens of Hawaii appeared to you: “Emergency alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.  SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.  THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”  I’m told that a missile originating in North Korea, for instance, would take only about 30 minutes to arrive in Hawaii.  What if you had 30 minutes to prepare?

In the ancient world, Nineveh was known as an extremely wicked, violent, and cruel place.  The prophet Jonah appeared there and announced: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”  What if you had 40 days to prepare?

Corinth in New Testament times was known also as a wealthy place of injustice, waste, grave sin, and serious immorality.  St. Paul expected the imminent return of Jesus and the end of the world as we know it.  Without giving a number of days or minutes, St. Paul simply said: “I tell you … the time is running out.”  What would suddenly be most important to you if you knew that your time was running out?

Here’s the truth.  Your time and my time is in fact running out.  There will never be enough of it as far as we are concerned.  Yet, we become accustomed to our routine and we make the mistake of thinking we will have enough warning to handle the most important things in life and to get our affairs in order.  We live then in an ongoing delusion that the things that truly matter can wait because we will have time.

For the Christian, we have been claimed for Jesus Christ.  We are called to live with him now and to follow him in all things toward the eternal kingdom he desires us to inherit.  But we have to make choices here and now to live with him and to prepare for full life in that kingdom.  For the Christian the things that are most important are always supposed to remain at the top and should never be ignored or forgotten.  That is our task each day.  Live each day in preparation and when the time does run out you will be prepared.  As I was reflecting on these readings an idea came to me to employ my phone technology to remind me of this truth.  In the reminders app on my phone I typed myself a new reminder, set to alert me each day.  Now daily on my phone the following message pops up: “Time is running out!  Confession?  Are you ready to die?”  It was not a light reflection!

We can delude ourselves into avoiding the important things, thinking we will always be in control of time.  St. Paul expected an imminent end and so he recommended detachment from things of this world.  It would be silly, in other words, to make new commitments in this life (marrying, weeping or rejoicing over things of this world, buying or owning) when the end is near and the focus should be on preparing for what is to come in a new world.

The story of Nineveh should actually encourage us.  Nineveh was a very wicked place deserving God’s wrath.  Jonah was a very reluctant and unenthusiastic prophet.  But the response of the people of Nineveh to such bad preaching is that they believed God and repented of their sin.  That Nineveh could repent in a way that saw God relent from destruction should give us hope for our own call to repentance and to prepare for the day of the Lord’s return.  However bad my preaching and urging may be, we have a greater than Jonah here, thanks be to God!  It is Jesus who calls us: Repent!

We have been called by Jesus to follow him.  If we are doing so, if we belong to him and to his kingdom, if we have been claimed for his kingdom in baptism, then from now on even our most important worldly concerns – family, job, possessions – must be judged in the light of the gospel.  Among Jesus’ first words is this: Repent!  If you and I are not frequently repenting, if we are not showing in our actions that we are responding like those in Nineveh, can we really say we are following the one we say we follow?  After all, of all the things Jesus could have said, among his first words was: Repent!  Jesus, Who is God, told us to confess.  Too often you hear Catholics excuse confession away.  We delude ourselves of the need to get prepared when we think we need only confess once or twice a year.  We make a mistake if we think confession is only part of preparation for First Holy Communion and confirmation and then never again.  No, repentance and the sacramental experience of repentance in confession is supposed to be an established and ongoing habit for a disciple that helps us live now with the one who calls us to repent and who comes to save us from our sins.

Time is running out.  The tools for repentance are here.  The mercy of God is inexhaustible and available.  But we have to repent.  We have to wise up because the world in its present form is passing away.