Time is always running out

Homily for January 21, 2018 (3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

What would you do if you received the following text message on your smart phone?

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND…. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.  Would you seek shelter?  Say good-bye to loved ones?  Pray?

For people in Hawaii, this is not a matter of speculation.  It happened to them about a week ago, as many were enjoying a leisurely Saturday morning.  Some people sent messages to their families to tell them that they loved them.  Others ate what they expected could be their last meals.  Some went back to bed.  Some looked for a safe place to hide.  Some broke down and cried.  It was a message that few could ignore.

It’s not hard, then, to understand the reactions of the people to Jonah’s message of death and destruction.  The people in Hawaii had only 15 minutes to get ready for what might be the end of their lives and perhaps the end of the world as we know it.  The people of Nineveh, by contrast, had 40 days.  They were afraid, but instead of becoming overwhelmed by their fear or giving in to despair or fatalism they repented.  As a sign of that repentance they fasted and put on sack cloth.  They radically changed how they lived and, in effect, punished themselves in the hope that God would have mercy on them.  It amazed Jonah that the Ninevites, unbelievers and enemies of Israel, behaved with such conviction.   His amazement later turned into embarrassment and rage when God had mercy on them!

But there’s more to repentance than an expression of contrition or even self-punishment.  What God really asks of us is real conversion.  It’s one thing to feel sorry for our sins or the ways we come up short as God’s children.  It’s something else to embrace the reign of God in our lives.

Jesus began his public ministry with a simple message: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Living in the kingdom of God means letting go of many of the ways of our world and embracing a new way of being and acting in that world.  Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John left their lives as fishermen to become disciples of Jesus and “fishers of men.”

In our second reading, St. Paul tells the church at Corinth that “the time is running out” and “the world in its present form is passing away.”  Scripture scholars note that at least in the early years of his ministry Paul believed that the end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus were imminent.  He was wrong about that, but he was right on a deeper and more existential level.  Every day we are alive is another day we draw closer to death.  Time is always running out and the world as we know it is constantly passing away.  What will we do with the time we have?

Each day we have an opportunity to change.  Each day we have a chance to live more fully in the reign of God.  Each day we can choose to believe in the gospel and use it as the guiding force of our lives.  Each day.  How about today? +