Third Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

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Kevin M. DePrinzio, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Jon 3:1-5, 10
Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Cor 7:29-31
Mk 1:14-20

We have to admit that this was a HUGE week for us, historic even. Everyone was talking about it, anticipating it, as if the whole world stopped, to tune in for that one moment, a moment we have all been waiting for: the return of Villanova basketball after four weeks of being on hold due to Covid and extended quarantine. If you stayed up to watch it – hopefully you did, though it was a late game (a 9pm EST start) – you would have been on the edge of your seat, like us friars, in tension throughout, for while we won against Seton Hall, it was a very tight game. The worst part was the last few minutes, which seemed to take forever. All the timeouts being called, slowing the game down, heightening the tension, the anticipation, the anxiety – even down to the second: it was hard to bear. Every second mattered, and yet I couldn’t stand it. And if you recall from Tuesday’s game, a second kept getting added on at the end, making it that much worse, since we were ahead only by 2, and just one more second could change the outcome. I wanted seconds to be taken away, not added. I wanted to be able move ahead.

Oh how often do we want to move ahead, to skip ahead! Yet when we do this we can so easily deny the time that we do have and fail to realize that every second really can and does matter, that none of it needs to be considered waste, even those seconds of struggle. This brings us to today’s scripture. Quite arguably, we are missing some seconds here, some details that fail to give us the whole picture. We could be easily led to believe that the stories of both the call of Jonah in our first reading and the call of the first disciples in Mark’s Gospel were cut and dried, short and sweet, with no struggle. The only details we have come across as immediate, quick, split-second responses. Was that really the case, and does it matter if it is? Or is it that today’s readings are simply moving us to the end result? We know that to be true, at least in the case of Jonah’s story, for what we did not hear in our first reading is all about Jonah’s struggle, Jonah’s initial resistance to God’s call to be a prophet to the people of Nineveh, found in the previous chapter. It’s only after struggling with God’s call for some time, like ending up in the belly of a whale, that Jonah finally agrees to be the prophet we know him to be, calling the Ninevites to conversion.

On the other hand, how shall we make sense of the call of the disciples in Mark’s gospel? If there is any resistance, if there is any struggle, Mark has left those seconds, those moments, those details out – and maybe on purpose. All we see in the picture Mark has painted for us, is their dropping everything to follow Jesus. But scholars tell us that Mark isn’t a details man; the details didn’t matter to him, as much as the end result: their saying yes to the call of Jesus. Sure, it may have taken a couple of visits from Jesus to the Sea of Galilee, for them to follow Jesus, and they could have asked a million questions, or even asked for a timeout, but in the end, what mattered to Mark is that they followed Jesus along the way. That’s why Mark skips ahead, over the details, and gets to the point, to their response and the sense of urgency and immediacy characteristic of Jesus’ message.

When it comes down to it, we are people that are in between. Sometimes we need and want every second; other times we just want to skip ahead in life. And it really depends on where we are in our life, doesn’t it? When things, as we say, are “going right” for us we love every second. We savor every minute of vacation, of break, for instance. Yet, when things aren’t going well – the pandemic, for instance, divisions within our country, social unrest – when struggles occur in life, we want a timeout, or we long to skip ahead, to fast forward to a happier moment, when we can get out of the situation. This is the tension, isn’t it?

The truth is God is both here with us right now and ahead of us. That’s really the point Paul is trying make to the Corinthians in our second reading, for God wants us to live in the present as if each minute, each second counts and was the last. Christian living is about living in the in-between. To live as Christ is to live in the tension of it all, staying with it even in the struggle, yet always remaining hopeful for a better future in God. That is our reality as the Body of Christ. That is the reality we are faced with at every celebration of the Eucharist. That is the reality we are constantly being molded in and shaped into at this table. That is what we bring to the world, to hold out this reality, this tension, each and every second of every day, with an Amen to the presence of Christ in and through it all, bringing us and calling us to the end.