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01/21/17 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Today’s readings teach us that this fleeting world is just a stop on the way to a greater and better one that will last forever. If we get bogged down in the things of this passing world, we’ll pass away with them. The key to avoiding this is spiritual detachment.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Jonah begrudgingly warns the people of Nineveh that if they don’t repent of their sins, they’ll be destroyed. The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, which is why Jonah did not want them to be saved, but the Lord did. The Ninevites didn’t even worship the Lord, but they believed he would follow through on his warning. They expressed their sorrow for whatever they had done wrong, and the Lord spared them. Repentance is the first step of conversion. Our Lord at the start of his public ministry, which we recall in today’s Gospel invited people to “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us that if we get stuck on the things of this world, we will pass away just like them. Christian life implies a healthy detachment from the things of this world. Detachment is not the same as renunciation. It’s not always about giving things up; instead, it is about using them properly to help you from here to eternity. It means relationships that don’t separate you from your most important relationship: with God. It means not letting sorrow drive you to despair and self-destruction, spiritual or otherwise. It means not being so superficial and goofy in the light of your duties that you let down the Our Lord or anyone else. It means purchasing what you need, not necessarily what you want, resisting the itch of consumerism or keeping up with the neighbors. It means, in short, not treating this world as if it is the be all and end all of things, but as something to help you live happily one day in Heaven.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord begins his ministry with a simple message and recruits four disciples who would soon become his apostles. John the Baptist had preached repentance, like Jonah, and was now under arrest. Our Lord goes beyond Jonah, starting at Galilee: he not only preached repentance, but the Gospel, the Good News able to not just forgive believers, but to transform them and transform the world. He intends that message to reach the whole world. Our Lord presents an opportunity for forgiveness and transformation that should not be passed up: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” The Kingdom is not something that will come at the end of history. It comes with Christ (the King) himself and is meant to spread and grow, transforming the world. With Simon, Andrew, James, and John he took it one step further: he invited them to be his disciples and to help him with his work. It didn’t mean abandoning the talents they had, just using them in a renewed way. Simon and Andrew would now be fishers of men. James and John left behind their family, their business, and their colleagues to follow Our Lord. Ultimately all four apostles laid down their lives to show that Our Lord was the one thing necessary for them. No matter what level of discipleship to which you are called, it always implies leaving something behind for the sake of something greater. It means leaving beside sin as the road to nowhere, but it can also mean leaving aside good things for the sake of more important, spiritual ones.

Today’s First Reading tells us it took Jonah three days to cross Nineveh, and the Book of Jonah says the city had a population of over 120,000 people. It was considered a big city in ancient times. In comparison, New York City had a population of 8.538 million people as of 2016, and 6,074 miles of road (source). It would take over a hundred days to walk all the streets of New York City, and, even then, not everyone would be within hearing distance of someone who walked down the street yelling. You could argue that this is not the most efficient way of getting a message out, especially considering the technology at our disposal, but the Lord wanted Jonah to do it personally. The Lord could have spoken to the entire city at once or worked out a more dramatic sign, but he sent a single man to get the message out. He still could, but he chose to come in Person instead. We too, as Christians, should not dupe ourselves into thinking that the more flashy and technological is more effective, especially when it is more impersonal. Sometimes it implies that neither the message nor its recipient is very important to me. Our Lord came in Person, and he teaches us that both the message and its recipient are important to him, as they should be to us.

Detachment implies leaving something behind for the sake of something greater. Here are some practical steps toward greater detachment that you can try this week. Check your drawers, closets, and shelves and give away to the poor those things that you can live without. How long has it been sitting there untouched? If it’s been over a year, donate it. You don’t need it. Do you regret that you haven’t spent quality time with someone in your life, or let a feud isolate you from a friend? Has someone done something you’re having a hard time forgiving? Reconnect and remind someone how much you love them. Forgive. Ask for forgiveness and say you’re sorry. Spend some time reading Scripture instead of surfing the web or watching dumb videos on your phone (emphasis on dumb). Spend some quiet time in prayer to examine your life and see whether the way you are living it would please Our Lord. Ask him to help you see beyond the status quo and strive to improve yourself spiritually.

 

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